KNOXVILLE — To some extent we all live in our own reality.
Thus can Tennessee junior quarterback Matt Simms say of his first spring practice a few months back: “I acted confident around my teammates. I’d get in the huddle and say, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ Then I’d think to myself, ‘Now what am I doing here?’”
Thus can senior wideout Gerald Jones say of Simms’ ability to lead in that huddle, “His leadership skills have been equivalent to his performances on the field.”
Thus, too, can new UT coach Derek Dooley observe, “(Simms) was fooling the team (during spring practice), but he wasn’t fooling me. I knew he didn’t know what he was doing.”
But the shared reality from everyone in pale orange — fans, coaches and players — is that if neither Simms nor backup quarterback Tyler Bray knows what he’s doing, the Volunteers will be in big trouble.
“Right now, Matt’s with the ones (starters) and Tyler’s with the twos,” Dooley said Tuesday, one day before the start of preseason camp. “But they’ll both get plenty of work.”
If work alone will make Simms a winner, the Vols apparently will be in good shape. Other than a few days spent attending the Manning family quarterback camp, Simms missed nary a summer workout on campus.
Or as his head coach noted, “No one has put in a greater investment than Matt. Some have worked as hard, but no one has put in more time, energy and volunteer work than him.”
Given that his father Phil won a Super Bowl ring and was twice an All-Pro with the New York Giants, the player’s dedication is understandable. Throw in the fact that older brother Chris — once a Tennessee recruit before deciding to play for that other UT (Texas) — is entering his eighth NFL season after signing with the Tennessee Titans last spring, and you have the generic version of the Manning clan.
“Our conversations (with Phil) aren’t, ‘How was your day?’” Matt said. “It’s usually, ‘How did football go?’”
Yet that doesn’t mean the past few months haven’t been some of his best, especially with Chris living not far away in Nashville.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been this close to each other,” Matt said. “It’s been awesome hanging out some in Nashville. We’ll eat a lot, then we’ll eat some more. Chris’s wife isn’t quite the cook my mom is, but her steak, mashed potatoes and green beans are tough to beat.”
And on those rare occasions they can’t eat any more?
“We’ll play video games,” Matt revealed. “I really like FIFA. I’m Germany; he’s England or Portugal. I haven’t found a way to beat Portugal yet.”
According to news from the Manning camp, Simms often looked like a quarterback capable of beating Florida, Alabama or Georgia, however.
In a field that included Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy, Simms was said to have routinely stood out, which he believes has helped improve his status with his Vols teammates.
“When the guys heard I did really well there, they may have started to see a new me, though I was there the whole time,” Simms said. “You’ve got 10 guys looking at you in the huddle on every play to get the job done. Maybe that will help.”
Someone suggested that being a Tennessee quarterback at a camp featuring Peyton Manning might have ensured Simms a little extra help.
“Since I was a Tennessee guy I might have gotten a little more love,” he said with a smile. “But guys like Peyton and Eli are great with everybody. Archie, Peyton and Eli are just all very special people.”
Yet there was surely something Peyton told him that he hadn’t heard before.
“On a couple of routes he’d say, ‘Don’t rifle it in there; just complete it,’” Simms recalled. “He’d tell me, ‘Six yards is all you need. Just make the simple pass.’”
It all sounds simple during the first week of August. As Dooley said, “Every coach right now is saying that his team’s had a great summer.”
But perhaps to underscore that this Big Orange quarterback race isn’t quite over, Jones said, “Both throw it pretty good, but sometimes Bray can drop it in there right over the defense, right in your hands, right where you need it.”
Even Simms said of Bray, “I’m kind of jealous of how much talent Tyler has.”
Either way, Dooley was quick to note the grim reality of his QB situation: “I don’t think any coach goes into the season with a quarterback who has taken zero snaps and feels like he’s OK at that position.”
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...