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Matt Simms vs. Tyler Bray
Posted: Sunday, September 5th, 2010, 12:21 AM • Permalink
On the first day of fall practice, Matt Simms had, by all accounts, a great showing. Very accurate, much better understanding of the offense (which he admitted to faking in the spring even though Derek Dooley says he wasn’t fooled), and great confidence and command of the offensive huddle and the team as a whole. To further demonstrate his willingness and desire to lead the team, after spending the afternoon working his own tail off in heat indices well over 100, Simms came back to the evening session to watch and encourage the freshmen and newcomers.

That first day was indicative of things to come. According to the mostly second-hand reports we’ve read—since no one with permission to write or talk about it has actually SEEN anything worth seeing—Simms kept building on all three of the positive characteristics he demonstrated on Day One. He’s been accurate and has demonstrated confident command of the offense and the team…at least when compared to Tyler Bray.

There’s been some debate among the fans over whether Dooley should play the junior and junior college transfer Simms or the talented freshman and midterm enrollee Bray. Several fans and select media have said, if it’s a close race, then the nod should go to the youngster to start building for the future. In recent days, however, the media have sounded pretty unanimous in proclaiming that the perhaps less talented but more polished Simms should be the starter. Some have even hinted that Bray may be somewhat lacking in the maturity department. On some level, it’s irrelevant what we non-coaches think. Derek Dooley has already named Simms the starter, though he has said on multiple occasions that both QBs will play this year.

To be fair, Simms is the more mobile of the two, and his spiral has been praised in both the Manning Passing Academy and the Vols’ practice sessions this summer. Nevertheless, the taller Bray has the stronger (“laser…rocket”) arm and, until the final scrimmage or two, had always had at least slightly better results in game-like situations—including the spring Orange and White game—causing some to see him as more of a “gamer.” The differences in stats, however, weren’t exactly glaring. Hence, the debate. And since there’s a debate, I figure I might as well weigh in, right?

I contend that it is best for Tennessee if Matt Simms wins the QB battle and remains the starter for the entire 2010 season. I have several reasons for believing this, but I’ll start with a few pros and cons for each QB.

As I stated above, Tyler Bray has a canon attached to his shoulder. If it’s possible to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile by hand, I’m pretty sure Bray could do it. As long as he doesn’t try to Brett Favre it into tight spaces and double coverage, he should be able to make all of the proverbial throws. He also has youth on his side, which can be both a blessing and a curse, but experience as a freshman usually means a better, more experienced sophomore, etc. Plus, if Bray starts this year, we could have another four-year starter (Peyton, Clausen), and who doesn’t like those? Add in the aforementioned better stats in full scrimmages, and you’ve got the bulk of the argument in favor of the freshman.

That’s not the whole story, however. As talented as Bray is, he’s by no means the perfect QB. While he does have prototypical height at 6’6”, a stiff breeze could knock the kid over. UTSports.com lists Bray at 210 lbs., and if you know anything about how schools list players’ weights, then you know that 210 is a generous number. (Sir Walter is reporting that he once overheard a rail talking about how thin the guy is.) Aside from the durability and injury issues that could arise from an undersized freshman QB starting in the SEC, there are also confidence issues that could plague a young QB playing behind an inexperienced offensive line in a league full of—as ESPN 1180’s Wes Rucker is fond of calling them—“swamp beasts” trying their best to rip his head off. If you don’t believe me, just ask David Carr’s psyche. The last thing UT needs is its future QB—provided current 2011 UT QB commit Justin Worley doesn’t come in and supplant him—permanently scarred and afraid of the pocket. Besides, as also noted earlier, Bray has struggled at times with his accuracy, and any NFL scout will tell you that, as long as your arm is strong enough, accuracy is more important than arm strength.

That sounds like a nice segue to Matt Simms, don’t ya think?

For starters (pun intended), having Simms start for the next 2 years gives Bray time to develop…a waistline. Or get rid of the tapeworm, either way. (‘Cause dude is skinny.) If AA is right, and an injury-ravished UT will be using a “ghost man” at defensive tackle by year’s end, then having Bray at the helm would be akin to playing a stick man at QB. Or maybe some stick man-Mega Man hybrid ‘cause, for real, he’s got a plasma canon for an arm. Seriously, though, giving Bray (or Nash Nance…or Worley next year) a chance to grow physically and mentally into the starting QB role could only help. Plus, it lowers the chance of injury or shell-shock that could essentially stop a freshman QB’s development before it starts.

More importantly, it locks another high-profile QB family into Tennessee athletics. Can you imagine having Peyton Manning and Phil Simms hanging out at summer workouts when recruits come in to visit. Cha-ching! (And I’m not even talking about the money…which wouldn’t hurt.)

While Bray’s stats from the first two scrimmages of fall camp seem at least a bit better than Simms’, Simms better performance in the “crucial, end-game situations” scrimmage on 8/21 clearly cemented him as the starter over Bray (for now). A performance that includes three or four or even more interceptions against UT’s defense, depending on whose account you believe, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. (And that’s not counting the 3 INTs from the previous scrimmage that were, by all accounts, dropped by Savion Frazier.) No offense, but UT’s current defense isn’t exactly The Steel Curtain. Meanwhile, Simms threw only one interception, and that on a spectacular play by Savion Frazier. Sounds like Simms is the better decision maker at this point. Couple that with his oft-documented accuracy, and you have the makings of the game-manager type of QB Dooley learned to value in his time under Nick Saban.

It seems clear to me that Bray has more talent and a bigger “upside,” a stronger arm and a higher ceiling. But it seems just as clear that Simms has earned more respect from the rest of the team. I, for one, would rather have a team leader than a guy who’s only talented. And since we can’t have both right now, I’ll take the former. If Bray grows into a strong team leader and smart decision maker with a good grasp of the playbook, then I’m all for making the switch. Regardless, since both show obvious deficiencies, I truly do think you’ll see both on the field this fall. Not ideal, but fine. Whatever.

My hope: that Simms’ plays out of his mind this year and next, giving Bray time to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally. Give Bray a chance to earn his way onto the field as a true team leader and an upperclassman. That’s the way the big time programs—of which we once were one—set it up. New QB every other year. That’s the ideal, if not every single year because a superstar senior just graduated, but that’s not realistic.

The best case scenario for UT is that Simms plays unbelievably well in the opener, continues to play at a high level throughout the season, and keeps the starting job until his eligibility runs out. Meanwhile, Bray also plays well when he gets his opportunities, but simply could benefit from more time in the offense as well as in the weight room. He sees the field in the typical backup situations, including late in blowout wins and losses.

Again, that’s the most we can hope for. What to expect? Both play. Simms struggles at times. Bray struggles at times. Bray hits a few deep bombs during his snaps, previewing the future, while also making a few freshman mistakes (e.g., delays of game, running the wrong play, bad interceptions, fumbles, etc.), explaining why he isn’t the starter. Simms makes fewer big plays in his snaps, but takes fewer chances, resulting in fewer mistakes. Simms also handles the vast majority of the fourth-quarter snaps, especially in the first six to eight games of the season, and performs well. And, with a little luck, Simms brings us a few wins. I think that’s what we’ll see, anyway. But, really, who knows?

Maybe we should check to see if Mega Man has any eligibility left.
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