Tennessee hasn't had this kind of logjam at quarterback since 2004. That was when blue chip freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer fought for the starting job with former LSU bench warmer Rick Clausen. The 2010 quarterback situation definitely parallels what happened in '04 when the Vols won the SEC East and the Cotton Bowl.
However, the new signal callers don't have the skill position talent that Ainge and Clausen were blessed with. Instead of thousand yard rushers Gerald Riggs and Cedric Houston, Tennessee has Tauren Poole and David Oku who have 55 career carries among them. And Tennessee absolutely doesn't have four returning starters as in 2004, including four year starter Michael Munoz and NFL second rounder Arron Sears.
Since spring practice, the battle has whittled down from four passers to two. Nick Stephens, who started some games in 2008 when Jon Crompton was struggling, decided to transfer close to his Texas home and play for D-II Tarleton State. 2008 JUCO All-American Nick Lamaison also decided to leave the program after being relegated to third string.
So, we're left with Matt Simms and Tyler Bray. Let the battle begin! Nash Nance is just there to learn the offense and be ready for the future.
Matt Simms is the brother of Tennessee Titans backup quarterback Chris Simms and the son of Super Bowl winning New York Giants passer Phil Simms. He was a 3-star recruit who threw for over 6,000 yards in his high school career and signed with Steve Kragthorpe and Louisville.
After riding the bench for a season, he transferred to El Camino Junior College in California and threw for 2,204 yards, leading them to a fourth straight league title.
His junior college exploits earned Simms a scholarship at Tennessee in 2009 and the chance to be a BCS starting quarterback again. He shined in spring drills and scrimmages, revealing some speed in the pocket, a great arm, and good rapport with Gerald Jones, his Orange teammate.
However, in the spring game, Simms struggled by throwing two picks and getting sacked five times. But he did throw a touchdown pass to Jones.
Even though he struggled with his release and with zeroing in on one receiver in the spring, Simms remains Dooley's favorite going into fall camp. He worked in the summer with Peyton Manning and was accoladed as the best quarterback at his camp, which included Alabama's Greg McElroy.
So far in camp, Simms has practiced with the first team in split squad practices, going against Bray. He's been razzed a little bit by the leadership mantle, but his starting experience in junior college could give him a slight edge over Tyler Bray.
At Kingsburg High School in California, Tyler Bray was a three sport star with a killer arm. On the gridiron, he led Kingsburg to an undefeated 13-0 season while throwing for over 3,000 yards and 41 TDs. Like former Tennessee QB Erik Ainge, he played basketball and decided to sign with the Vols after being pursued by Pete Carroll and USC.
Enrolling early, this high school senior struggled with overthrowing his receivers early in spring camp. However, he shined during the Orange/White game where he led his team to a 16-7 victory, throwing a short touchdown pass to Denarius Moore and consistently guiding his team to the red zone.
Bray showed his ability to check down by finding Tauren Poole underneath four times and fullback Ben Bartholomew twice.
Even though he was the standout of the spring game, Bray comes into fall chasing Matt Simms' shadow. He has the arm and quick release, but can his stringy 6'6" 192 lbs take the beating of Oregon, Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama in a seven week span? Tyler Bray has incredible talent, but it's unlikely that Dooley will throw him in the fire so early.
Unless he lays an egg in fall practice, Simms will probably start against UT Martin Skyhawks. Dooley has gotten angry at the special teams in fall camps, but the quarterback has yet to feel his wrath. A good strategy would be to alternate Simms and Bray in the first game like Tennessee did with Ainge and Schaeffer against UNLV.
The result of that first game would decide who starts against Oregon. I'm afraid for Tennessee quarterbacks and the offensive line this season, but by 2012, Tyler Bray could be one of the top passers in the SEC with his height, release, and arm strength.
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