An early look at the Vols spring QB race

Nine to 10 Tennessee commitments will enroll early at Rocky Top next week. How will early enrollees figure into the race for several starting positions? Go "Inside" this special look at each position and how some key freshmen will compete for a starting role. In this story we look at the quarterback position. There is no other position that has more questions unanswered.

Building a championship football program isn't easy. It's a process, one that takes time, hard work and attention to detail.

Lane Kiffin brought a plan with him to the University of Tennessee, a plan that has been proven to be a winner.

Kiffin has borrowed a lot of his master plan blueprints for rebuilding the Vol football program from Pete Carroll and USC. While some parts are from Carroll, Kiffin and his top-rated assistants have also put their personal signatures on the plans as well.

Next week another step of this process will take place.

Nine to 10 committed Tennessee players will report to Rocky Top and begin classes six months early.

Early enrollees are not unusual - every program does it - but nine to 10 in one program is not so common.

"Getting prospects to enroll early is becoming a popular trend," said Chad Simmons, the Southeast Recruiting Expert for "All coaches want a prospect on their campus as soon as possible. It's almost like a prospect gets six months to get mentally and physically ready for college football."

Out of the nine expected early enrollees, two are quarterbacks; three are wide receivers, two defensive ends, one fullback and one offensive lineman.

We at will do a position-by-position breakdown, including the nine early enrollees, giving all Vol fans a little something to look forward to for spring football.

This is an early evaluation by our staff, giving our thoughts on each position and what the depth situation will be when spring football begins at Rocky Top in a couple of months.

There is no other position that is more in question than the quarterback situation in Knoxville.

Senior Jonathan Crompton is gone. Despite a rocky start Crompton developed into a credible threat for the Vols this fall. The job that David Reaves, Lane Kiffin and Jim Chaney did developing Crompton's confidence and accuracy was simply amazing.

Now, this coaching staff has to do it all over again.

There are two returning signal callers on scholarship, including redshirt junior Nick Stephens and junior college transfer sophomore Nick Lamaison.

Add true freshman Tyler Bray to the group, along with junior college transfer Matt Simms to the equation.

Nick Stephens has spent a year in Kiffin's new offensive system and probably has to be considered the guy to beat out in the spring for the starting role. His experience and work ethic should afford him the opportunity to compete for the job at a high level.

The Texas gunslinger has had his throwing motion changed by the new coaching staff and seems to be adjusting well to the new offense.

"Nick probably knows our offense as good as anyone right now," Kiffin said in an earlier interview. "He has worked extremely hard and has improved a lot over this past season."

Stephens has also worked on getting in the best physical shape of his career. He has put on 20 pounds of muscle and is ready to lead this team.

"I'm ready," Stephens said after a bowl practice. "I have worked extremely hard over the last few months and my accuracy has really gotten a lot better. I'm ready to lead; I have always stepped forward when it comes to leading by example."

While many may think that one of the newcomers may be the odds-on favorite to win the position, it won't be won without a fight from Stephens.

"I know I will get a fair shot," Stephens said. "I got that this past fall and that's all I can ask for."

California signal caller Tyler Bray is enrolling early in Knoxville, in an attempt to learn the offense and compete for a starting role.

Bray arrived in Knoxville in early December and got the opportunity to work out with the team five times, giving him a little taste of what to expect this spring.

Bray, who is 6-foot-6 and 195-pounds, will also benefit from participating in a complete spring off-season with the Vols strength and conditioning staff.

Putting on weight and muscle will be key for the California signal caller; he will get an extra six months to accomplish just that.

While Bray is expected to compete for the starting role, it's probably unlikely he will be able to come in and learn the offense and be ready for the season opener against Tennessee-Martin.

Bray may see playing time as a starter for the Vols this upcoming fall, don't expect it to be early and expect it to happen only after Stephens proves whether or not he can handle the job.

Two junior college quarterbacks will be on the roster, one with a NFL pedigree and the other already spending six months in the UT program.

Matt Simms, the son of NFL quarterback and TV personality Phil Simms, has signed with UT.

Simms, who is coming off a broken wrist that he suffered during this past season in junior college, is expected to add much needed depth to the position.

It's been noted that Simms has a funny type of delivery and is expected to go through some changes this spring, a lot like what Stephens has already completed with this coaching staff. Expect Simms to get an equal opportunity to impress and earn the position.

The other junior college quarterback is sophomore Nick Lamaison. The California native joined the team last fall in an efforts to give the Vols much-needed depth.

Lamaison has played in a spread offense for most of his career and showed this past fall that he has a lot of work to do to transition to Kiffin's pro style attack.

While it's several months away before the Vols kick off the 2010 season against Tennessee-Martin, there is a lot of work to be done during this spring off-season, none more important than figuring out who will be under center for that season opener. will continue our position by position review over the next couple of weeks, giving our thoughts at each position.

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