There has not been any official pronouncement, but I am now willing to presume at this point that Jonathan Crompton will start for the Tennessee Volunteers when the season begins against Western Kentucky. The reports over the last two weeks of fall practice have indicated a close race between him and Nick Stephens, with both quarterbacks making enough mistakes to risk losing the starting job to the other, but Crompton has slowly - almost painfully slowly - been receiving better reports from the various media outlets covering the practices. Perhaps the slowed development of
Stevens Stephens due to his wrist injury in the spring is making the difference, but at this point the job is Crompton's to lose, and I don't have a reason to believe that he'll drop the ball (so to speak). So, assuming the apparent is indeed true, there are two viewpoints that can be taken:
The cheerful view is easy to understand. Without dredging up the corpse all over again, we know that last year's problems were at least as much about an overly complicated offensive system as anything else, and that problem is gone. When you're trying to run an offense and nobody is ever certain that they're actually running the right play, things are going to be a little less than optimal. Another interesting side effect has been largely ignored: when placed under stress, the mind loses much of its ability to think creatively. We've all been there with tests in school; you turn the test in, walk out the door, and immediately realize just how badly you hashed up the answer to that last question. Even more humiliating is that you can suddenly remember the right answer perfectly clearly, even though you couldn't think of the first place to start when it counted.
Crompton (and really, everybody on offense) experienced the same phenomenon last year. With so much to think about and all of the eyeballs of Big Orange Country squarely on them, the pressure was on. And the thinking shut off. And as the season wore on, the stress increased and the problem exacerbated.
Also in the corner of hope is that many of Crompton's problems are fixable through coaching. He tended to lock onto receivers. He didn't have a response to adversity. His feet were often not set on passes. Those are things that coaching can fix. And by all accounts, the coaching of technique has been very strongly emphasized. So there are many reasons to hope.
On the flip side of the coin, Crompton's problems were largely systemic last year. The 'over-the-shoulder' reflex he has exhibited during practice is likely not easily overcome. The problems of locking in on receivers and unsettled throwing techniques were problems that became ingrained through repetition last year. I'm still of the camp that most of his problems were caused (or at the very least, unaddressed) by the staff last year as they focused on scheme installation. However, the issues were reinforced, no matter the cause. While they may be coachable, that's not saying it's like flipping a switch.
Opinions will vary. Those of you who are familiar with me know that I am a very optimistic person and I'm going to take the better interpretation out of this. Crompton appears to have been the best option throughout practice and, once formalized as the starter, will be coached up to be the best chance for winning in the fall. With his confidence returning and his technique improving, I would be shocked if he's not drastically improved over last year's fiasco.
Stevens Stephens may yet win the job, and if he does it'll only be because he's the better option for winning games in the fall. But to win the job, the slow, steady lean in Crompton's favor is going to have to reverse direction.
So for now, just call me Cromptimistic.