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August 17, 2009

Kiffin says Vols' QB race is 'extremely close'

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - It's almost the midway point of fall camp and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin says his quarterback battle is still too close to call.

"Extremely close," Kiffin said after Monday's 14th practice of camp. "Their numbers, as far as snaps and attempts, their attempts I think were exactly even in the game and they're grading out very close. It's good to see.

"I know that you guys probably all want it to be easy and you'd think I would, but if it was easy that would mean one guy wasn't playing well. If that was the case, we wouldn't be very good. So I'm excited that they're both playing well."

While senior Jonathan Crompton had better overall numbers in Saturday's scrimmage, junior Nick Stephens wasn't aided by arguably the offense's worst mental performance of fall camp. Kiffin, who said the offense wasn't as bad as his initial reaction, cited 12 penalties and "three times as many blown assignments" in the scrimmage than in the previous Saturday, when the Vols' offense appeared extremely effective.

"Not as well as the first week, but a number of drops," Kiffin said of how his quarterbacks rated. "Jonathan appeared better number-wise, but Nick was very unfortunate with a number of drops and some plays that would have been big third-down conversions. Two third-down penalties where we actually converted the third down. It was a group thing of guys not doing right, which then obviously affected the quarterbacks."

Even so, Crompton said he's growing more comfortable each day in Tennessee's pro-style offense.

"It feels like I am seeing the field pretty good. I have to give all the credit to Coach Kiffin and Coach [David] Reaves," Crompton said. "It's really good to learn under them and it's fun to play with our guys because I know that they are going to be where they are supposed to be because of the way we are coached."

Neither quarterback created separation in Monday's practice, when the defense notched a couple of interceptions and deflected several other passes. But Kiffin doesn't see a trend of poor decisions of slowing Crompton's progress the last few outings.

"He has not made really many big mistakes. He had one today that was unfortunate," Kiffin said of an interception by Dennis Rogan. "[Crompton] tried to make a bad play worse. He was scrambling around and instead of just trying to get five yards and let us go punt, he was throwing back across his body and threw an interception. We had been avoiding those decisions, and it's one to learn from and get out of our system before we play."

Kiffin wasn't nearly as prominent in the Vols' offensive huddle on Monday, and Crompton said he thinks the unit is starting to play at a quicker pace.

"It feels like we are playing fast," Crompton said of the offensive tempo. "We are not really thinking about it. We are just playing ball and reacting. That is a good thing to see with a lot of these young guys too."

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