Vols QB Nick Stephens still has room to improve

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is ready to see quarterback Nick Stephens take his play to the next level.

The sophomore took over against Northern Illinois after junior Jonathan Crompton had struggled with mistakes and controlling the offense through Tennessee's first four games.

Stephens' passing numbers are worse than Crompton's. Stephens has completed 49.3 percent of his passes for an average 135.5 yards in three games compared to Crompton's 52 percent for an average 164.5 yards in four games.

But with three touchdowns and no interceptions, Stephens has thrown one more touchdown and four fewer interceptions than Crompton in one fewer start.

He also offers the long-ball threat that Crompton didn't have. Seventeen of his 33 completions have been for more than 10 yards, including completions of 43, 45, 52 and 60 yards.

Playing against an Alabama defense on Saturday night, which ranks fourth nationally in stopping the run, the ability to use the long pass to shorten the field will be crucial for Tennessee.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)