After completing another practice that leaves his head coach once again raving about arguably his best performance this spring, Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, engaging the media in a friendly setting, shows pause for perhaps the first time that day.
Someone asks the senior from Waynesville, N.C., if this feeling -- overt confidence -- strikes a familiarity to anything experienced a year ago when he first inherited the offensive reins.
"No, it doesn't compare at all," Crompton says. "It does not."
Nor does the level at which Crompton, Tennessee's on-again, off-again starter during a tumultuous 2008 campaign, prepares for his final season in Knoxville. As Tennessee's lightning-rod quarterback learns the Trojans' offense for first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin, he can't get enough of seeing USC execute its often high-powered attack on film.
"That's a big thing because, obviously, this offense has paid off in the past," Crompton says of his sudden proclivity for watching the Trojans on film. "I mean, it's put up some big numbers and a lot of championships (at USC), so everybody's bought in. We know what we have to do to get there, and we're going to try to do it."
For Crompton, that means watching his practices in the film room -- and poring over the Vols' video collection displaying that exploits of the Southern Cal offense that Kiffin guided to top NCAA honors during 2005 as its offensive coordinator.
But does that mean a star-studded offense loaded with future NFL talents translates to Tennessee? Crompton shows his studies aren't limited to USC's most prolific and publicized years.
"Obviously, it never hurts to have a Reggie Bush or somebody like that in there," Crompton explains. "But if you go back before Reggie was there or before Matt was there or Dwayne Jarrett - if you go back before all them - Carson, if you really think about it, he didn't have Reggie Bush.
"Obviously, at Southern Cal, they had good guys, but it's always been productive. That's the one thing that you can't really argue, no matter what it is. And we know we have some guys that can make plays for us, and that's what we're out here ... We're just going out here as confident as we can be, offensively and defensively, and that's what we're heading for."
Kiffin witnesses his quarterback growing more effective by the day - even as he's hesitant to espouse as much without prompting from a reporter.
"It's interesting that you noticed; I saw it all day," Kiffin says of Crompton's seemingly-daily progression. "I just didn't want to come over and talk about him again today. I was getting bored of talking about him. But he does look more comfortable than ever."
It isn't only coaches taking notice. After seeing Crompton complete several key passes through a misty, grueling three-hour practice session, including particularly sharp placement on some well-covered slants, wideout Gerald Jones recognizes this type of play stems from offseason dedication.
"He is playing incredible. He is making all the right reads. He is minimizing his mistakes. He is playing really well," says Jones, UT's leading returning receiver. "... Me and him had pretty much perfected the slant route. We worked a lot on routes and he threw me a lot of balls before spring practice started and it has paid off."
So, too, is Crompton's continuing studies of the Trojans' offenses as Tennessee gets deeper and deeper into the playbook of Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
"A whole lot, because I try to get the install, and whenever we get it, we watch it that day," Crompton says of the volume of his USC film studies. "But then I'll go back again and watch USC cut-ups again of it, trying to familiarize myself as much as I can and try to see all the different ways it can differ from here to here, what formations we do it out of and all that, so when we go to practice the next day and then we'll repeat it. Then, I'll know, as soon as it comes to the formation, I'll know what we're about to run."
What Kiffin wants to know is how Crompton will continue to handle situations - such as the one Tuesday when Kiffin chose to load-up Crompton's workload with the 1s on offense without first telling his signal-caller.
"I wanted to see how he would react," Kiffin explains. "Would it be added pressure? Would he regress? But he came out and looked even better. It was a great reaction to it."
It's the reaction of a quarterback playing with newfound and utmost confidence.
"Oh, yeah. I'm 100 percent confident in myself and everybody around us right now," Crompton gushes. "It's always fun getting the extra reps and getting more reps here and doing that. That's the whole reason why you play football. You want to be the starter. You want to get every rep. That's the competitive nature in you, and I'm one of the most competitive people I know. Whenever I get the chance, I'm going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability and just go 100 percent, and give it everything I've got."
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