By Jonathan Higdon
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTC/AP) — Matt Simms’ experience managing an offense appears to be giving him the edge in Tennessee’s quarterback competition.
With one week of the Volunteers’ fall camp left, the junior who spent a year at Louisville and another at a junior college, is poised to become the team’s starter over freshman Tyler Bray when Tennessee begins preparing for the season opener against Tennessee-Martin next week.
“It’s the ability to process the situation, get the play, spit it out, distribute it to 10 people, line them up, get the motion and then here comes the play. It’s a whole-managing-the-offense deal,” Dooley said of what distinguished Simms from Bray.
Both players have displayed strong arms, completing long touchdown passes. In the team’s first two fall scrimmages, Simms combined to go 20-for-43 for 315 yards, and Bray was 27-for-50 for 399 yards.
Stick both quarterbacks into situations that test their game-management skills, like needing a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to win or trying to run out the clock, and it’s a different story.
The Vols practiced those situations during a third scrimmage on Saturday; Simms managed the offense with confidence and Bray succumbed to what Dooley called “freshmanitis.”
“I’m not here to beat up Tyler,” Dooley said. “But we put him in about nine different situations where you’ve got to go win the game or not screw it up, and that’s tough on a true freshman. Matt’s experience is what’s helped him. This is where you really see it.”
Neither quarterback had fumbled the ball in the first two scrimmages. Simms had a pass tipped for an interception on Saturday, while Bray gave up three or four interceptions, Dooley said.
Both Simms and Bray participated in spring practice after enrolling at Tennessee in January.
The two quarterbacks aren’t Dooley’s only options after senior Nick Stephens decided to transfer in the spring, but they are his best ones. The Vols also have freshman Nash Nance, who enrolled in the summer and is several months behind Bray in learning the Tennessee system.
The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Simms has had plenty of experience as a starting quarterback — just not at the Division I level. He attempted only 10 passes in two games at Louisville his freshman year, completing four for 39 yards and an interception. For his sophomore year, he transfered to El Camino Community College in California, where he completed 159 of 269 for 2,204 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The Franklin Lakes, N.J., native and son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms has spent most of the year practicing with the first-team offense. He has built a rapport with other likely starters, including senior tight end Luke Stocker and senior wide receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore.
“The next step is just to continue to improve my decision making. That’s always a key for any quarterback,” Simms said.
Bray, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound Kingsburg, Calif., native, led Kingsburg High School to a 13-0 season while completing 185-of-302 for 3,321 yards and 41 touchdowns. However, he has had difficulty adapting to the speed and complexity of the college game.
On Saturday he struggled with managing the clock, avoiding sacks and calling the right play in the hurry-up offense.
“It’s the ability to process the situation,” Dooley said. “It’s not just like (Bray) made a good decision versus he made a bad one, it’s a whole managing the offense deal. It’s hard.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.