Photo by Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley during a news conference Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2010.
KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley has preached caution when dealing with his first starting quarterback battle with the Tennessee football program.
One practice touchdown pass won't settle the situation. One scrimmage interception won't move anyone from the first team to the scout team.
But there are times when decisions -- even if temporary -- need to be made. And this week is one of those times.
Junior college transfer Matt Simms and January enrollee Tyler Bray were given nudges up the depth chart before Tuesday's practice, and rising senior Nick Stephens was bumped down from the starters to the second string.
Simms and Bray didn't light up Neyland Stadium in last Thursday's first major scrimmage, but Stephens was 3-of-9 for 6 passing yards.
"You have kind of a general plan of not overreacting every practice, and we haven't," Dooley said after Tuesday's return to the practice field. "But I think when you go halfway through the spring, that's a great time to do an early evaluation of where we are, and that's what we did. Then we'll probably re-evaluate it again at the end."
"We're going to keep evaluating every couple of weeks. Right now we're going to increase the reps of Matt and Tyler and back down Nick a little bit. Nick has been exclusively with the 1s, and now we're going to give Matt some more with the 1s, and give Tyler a little bit more with the 2s and maybe some with the 1s. We're going to keep varying the reps so they all get equal opportunity."
Simms was clearly pleased with the news, but he wasn't nearly ready to announce himself as the starter.
"The coaches just mixed things up a little bit," said Simms, who Thursday completed 6 of 20 passes for 83 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "It's good to be rewarded for hard work. I've just got to keep improving and keep getting better, and hopefully more reps will come."
Bray moving into the mix has surprised a few people. The lanky 6-foot-7 Californian completed 8 of 13 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown Thursday, but he also had an interception that Dooley claimed "was just kind of thrown up for grabs."
The third-team defense pressuring Bray didn't give coaches much to work with, but the freshman also has had to work with the third-team offense on nearly every snap -- until Tuesday.
"He's performing really well," Dooley said of Bray. "He hasn't had the same supporting cast, so he's really doing it with a tougher group around him. But he also doesn't have the same guys coming at him on defense.
"We're going to get him in with some of the better guys and see if he can keep on going."
Dooley continued to say he'd rather find one starting quarterback and stick with him, but he again added that he wouldn't hesitate to rotate them in games until one solidified the top spot.
"You'd prefer to have one guy," the coach said. "I think there's merit to playing two, but at the end of the day, it's always better to have one, and he's your guy. But I've done it the other way, and if you have to do it, sometimes you just have to do it.
"Sometimes it's a case where you don't know who your guy is, so you're rolling them. Sometimes it's a case where maybe he just needs to catch his breath for a series or two. Every situation is unique."
The first-team defense received a big boost Tuesday with middle linebacker Nick Reveiz's return.
"I noticed him, so that's a good sign," Dooley said with a grin.
Reveiz, who started last season and played well before tearing an ACL in late September, has said for months that he would return sooner than anyone expected.
He was right.
"I kept telling everybody I'd be back for spring practice," Reveiz said. "I don't know if they believed me, but I believed myself. They just kind of let me loose a little bit. It was awesome. I can't even explain how much fun it was to be back out there."
Dooley said Reveiz probably won't be cleared for any remaining spring scrimmages, or the April 17 Orange and White game, but the player refused to rule himself out.
"We have to kind of pull back the reins on him," Dooley said. "We've got to manage his reps. If we didn't, he'd be out there every snap flying around."
Reveiz said he hopes to have 100 percent confidence in his knee before the start of preseason camp. That's far from automatic, but his quick return to practice contact was a major step in the right direction.
"The biggest thing to me, that I was worried about, was that I need these reps," Reveiz said. "It's a new defense, obviously, and I need to get looks where it's fast paced. I needed to get hit, too, and kind of have that mental thing go away -- that, 'Well, am I playing too hard?' That's something that was big today.
"It's hard to have that big of an injury and be out for six months and not say that you don't think about it at all. There was just a time over there a minute ago that was a toss play to Tauren Poole. I was running full speed to my right, and he made a cut, and I wanted to cut as hard as I could to my right ... but mentally, there was a little block, and I was a little nervous. That's something that's just going to take time, and that's why I need this now, instead of in fall camp."
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