Crompton unfazed by starting nod

No one was particularly fazed by Monday's announcement that Jonathan Crompton will start Tennessee's opener at quarterback, but no one was less fazed than Crompton himself.

Moments after head coach Lane Kiffin confirmed that Crompton had edged out junior Nick Stephens for the Game 1 start in "a very hard decision," Crompton got the news from a circle of reporters. If he was elated, he didn't show it. If he was relieved, he didn't show that, either. The fact is, he didn't show much emotion of any kind.

Asked how he felt to have the competition settled, the low-key Crompton shrugged and replied: "Nothing's settled yet. We haven't played a game yet. We're still trying to get out here and work. That's what it's all about. We're going to stay out here and throw every day. That's what we're about now."

Rather than celebrate his individual victory, the 6-4, 230-pound senior from Waynesville, N.C., focused on the bigger picture - getting the offense ready for Western Kentucky's visit on Sept. 5.

"Coach (Kiffin) really has done a great job of planting that in our heads: We're not even close to being there," Crompton said. "We've got to keep working. Everybody knows that, so everybody's really hungry, no matter if anybody's been named starter or not. Nobody really cares about that right now."

Kiffin said he gave "a ton" of weight to UT's three preseason scrimmages. Unofficially, Crompton completed 43 of 67 passes (64.2 percent) for 589 yards in them. Stephens was 29 of 52 (55.8 percent) for 315 yards.

The head man let the statistics speak for themselves.

"I went back and took all three preseason games together - all the numbers - and it was a very hard decision because they both played really well ... and that was a great thing," Kiffin said. "I think we've got two really good quarterbacks.

"Jonathan will be our starter. Nick will be our backup. If something were to happen to Jonathan, we feel very confident that Nick would come in and do a great job for us. He really improved. It's weird to say it, but if you listed the five most improved players from spring practice, Nick probably would be one of them, even though he didn't win a starting job."

When asked what ultimately tipped the competition in Jonathan Crompton's favor, Kiffin paused thoughtfully before responding:

"It was really close. It really came to that Jonathan was a little more accurate. Both guys made a number of plays during camp ... protected the ball very well ... very low interception numbers ,,, very good numbers in general. Jonathan had a slight edge for accuracy."

Last Saturday's scrimmage saw Crompton complete 17 of 31 passes for 267 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Stephens was 10 of 18 for 101 yards, with no TDs and no interceptions. Kiffin noted Monday that both "played extremely well."

Crompton, who lost the QB job to Stephens four games into the 2008 season only to win it back for Games 11 and 12, realizes that the quarterback competition did not end with today's announcement.

"We all know we're playing for our jobs in Week 10," he said. "Nothing's ever guaranteed around here, and that's a good thing. The more you compete, the more you get better. The minute you stop competing, you get complacent, and that's when things start going downhill. I don't see that happening around here, and that's a real good sign."

After completing just 51.5 percent of his passes last fall, Crompton's 64.2 mark this preseason represents a remarkable jump in accuracy. The cause, he says, is pretty simple:

"I've got to credit the coaches for telling me, 'With this, look here. With this, look here.' The more comfortable I feel, the more accurate I can be. It's giving the credit to them for teaching me where to go with (the ball), then I can play myself with that."

Reiterating that his appointment as the No. 1 QB is "not a big deal," Crompton added: "Whether you're first-team or fifth-team, everybody's out here competing because we know what we can do. The more we work, the more we get there. That's the biggest thing we're worried about right now."

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