KNOXVILLE -- Few would blame Matt Simms for feeling he had something to prove.
In addition to being the son of Phil Simms and younger brother of Chris Simms, he is wearing his third college football uniform in three years. The quarterback from a quarterback family is dealing with a third set of coaches, third set of teammates and third set of surroundings.
"You just have to make the most of every situation, especially when it seems like you're always the new guy," Matt said last week. But it's not about proving a point, he maintained -- it's about getting comfortable.
And the New Jersey native said he has found Southern comfort at Tennessee that he never felt at Louisville or El Camino (Calif.) Community College.
Simms played more at El Camino than he did at Louisville, but he never felt truly at ease last season despite completing 159 of 269 passes for 2,204 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"I don't feel like I have to prove much," Simms said. "It's more just going out there and playing the game and finally having fun in a place where I feel comfortable, finally. The situation at Louisville and then going to junior college, it was tough. I couldn't really be happy with myself at either place. Now that I'm here, I'm definitely happier with myself and happy with the situation around me.
"You know how sometimes things just feel right? Well, Tennessee just feels right to me. This campus, these coaches, these guys ... everything about this place just feels right."
Those good feelings have translated onto the field, as Simms continues to battle Nick Stephens for the Volunteers' starting role. Several Vols have mentioned Simms' calm, confident demeanor in the huddle and the pocket.
First-year coach Derek Dooley commented on that aspect after Thursday's scrimmage.
Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms looks downfield to throw during the first day of NCAA college football spring practice on March 18 in Knoxville. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Michael Patrick)
"Matt has a good personality for a quarterback," Dooley said. "He's a confident guy. He's got good command and has a good presence in the huddle. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to execute and run the offense and move the ball and score points and affect others.
"But he's showing signs he's very capable of doing that."
Offseason surgery to correct a fractured wrist hasn't hampered the velocity on Simms' passes -- contrary to the concerns some had when the 6-foot-3 right-hander committed to the Vols in mid-December.
"Matt's got a cannon," UT tailback Tauren Poole said. "Sometimes I've had to ask him to turn it down a notch or two. You can tell he's feeling good, because he's really bringing it with those throws."
Surprisingly good arm strength won't be the determining factor in the Vols' quarterback derby, though. Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney both have thorough checklists that feature one major common denominator.
"I want to see who puts points on the ... board," Chaney said. "Whoever does that will be the guy."
Said Simms: "At the moment, you just, you really can't think about the depth chart. This is spring football. We're not going into the season. We have plenty of time before we have to worry about that, so right now it's just getting to know your players, your coaches and just learning every day."
If nothing else, Simms has rediscovered the fun in football. A tough situation at Louisville -- he was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules at one point -- eventually landed him at El Camino, where he said he played some games in front of "about 50 people."
That's a major reason why Simms walked off the Neyland Stadium grass Thursday with a wide smile. He didn't have a spectacular scrimmage -- he completed just 6 of 20 passes for 83 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- but he knows he's just a few months away from suiting up in one of college football's most famous stadiums.
"It's just unbelievable," he said. "That's why I'm just enjoying every minute of this. I'm just having so much fun. Being in this stadium and looking around at all the national championships and all the great players on the ring, it's just unbelievable.
"I like to have fun. Football is a serious game, especially at this level in the SEC, but you can't forget the fact that we're still kids in college. We come out here and we play football just like we do in pee-wee."
That attitude has helped Simms blend in quickly with UT's coast-to-coast roster.
"Oh, man, I feel great here," he said. "I already feel like part of the family. There's a great group of guys here, and they're really tough. They've kept their heads up despite all this change and all this bad stuff that's happened around here.
"I'm proud to be here working with these guys. Hopefully we'll keep working, keep getting on the same page and have a big year."
Other contacts for Wes Rucker at www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.