Derek Dooley rattled off seven different things he expects of his quarterback on every single play. Right now, Matt Simms is excelling in each category.
And those factors, more than anything, are why Simms will start for the Vols Sept. 4 when they open the Dooley era inside Neyland Stadium against UT-Martin.
"I wouldn't say gap in decision-making. It's the ability to process the situation, get the play, spit it out, distribute it to 10 people, line them up, get the motion and then here comes the play," Dooley said of what currently separates Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray, the Vols' backup signal-caller. "And now, given the situation, what are the no-nos? So, it's not just like he made a good decision versus he made a bad one. It's a whole managing the offense deal.
"And it's hard. I mean, it's hard. And that's where, and I kept saying Matt's experience is what's helped him. This is where you really see it. Even though Matt's new in our offense, he's been in two-minute, he's been doing that for the last three years."
Though Simms tossed his lone interception in a scrimmage setting this year -- Gerald Williams capitalized on a batted ball for one of the defense's five picks on the afternoon -- the junior transfer from Louisville continued to mostly value possession and command the offense.
"I feel like I've definitely improved, and a lot of that goes to a lot of the guys just having confidence in me to get the job done and a lot of that has to do with coach (Darin) Hinshaw and coach (Jim) Chaney getting me ready and preparing me. I feel good," said Simms, who again had multiple scoring passes in the Vols' final major scrimmage of pre-season camp. "I definitely feel more comfortable in the pocket and in the huddle and basically being that offensive leader that we need. I've got a great supporting cast that helps me out with it, too. It makes my job a lot easier."
While Dooley made it clear he wasn't demoralized by Bray's performance, he acknowledged the rookie from California performed like, well, a rookie.
"Tyler struggled today. Tyler struggled. His freshmanitis really showed," Dooley said. "Clocks, situations, don't take a sack, throw it away. Let's go. Call the right play.
"And look, that's what we're going to have to really ... When I talk about as coaches our balance of pushing the envelope schematically versus keeping it tight and clean so the players can play fast, there's no better example than with Tyler. Knowing what you've got to put on a quarterback to really be successful and win versus you do too much on them, you take away all the things he does well. That's what we're really going to have to evaluate now going forward with how we manage him."
Simms tried to keep his focus Saturday on operating the offense and not making costly mistakes.
"It really turned into a full game, but we were just constantly in situations and trying to be disciplined with our decision-making and being productive," he said.
Simms' knowledge of the offense has steadily improved, even from the onset of camp according to center Cody Pope.
"I think he's come a long way," Pope said. " ... I think one thing about Matt is his energy man. That kid is wired. Just meeting him, the first time when he was on his visit. I was like, 'What's up with his kid?' He was so wired. Guess it's just those New Jersey kids or whatever, that's how they are East Coast. But I like it man.
"He always brings a lot of energy to the huddle. He's always believing in us. It doesn't matter if that kid gets sacked back there. Sometimes we've let everybody hit him in the stadium and we're just like, 'Oh man, look how he's going to feel.' And he gets up, looks at us and says, 'Come on O-line, I believe in you baby.' And it just makes us as offensive linemen want to block for him even more."
While Simms wouldn't declare himself the starting quarterback, he acknowledged he's ready to lead this offense into the season.
"I definitely feel so much more confident than I did coming into camp as far as just knowing the offense, knowing what I have to do with my role in the offense," Simms said. "I feel like I'm ready to take this team to the next level."
The Vols' defense, which used a variety of pressures and showed many more looks according to players from both sides of the ball, generated five interceptions on the day. Eric Gordon, Austin Johnson, Savion Frazier, Anthony Anderson and Williams each had a pick.
Johnson was off to the races and likely would have had a pick-six, but the situational setting dictated he slide to the turf as though preserving a win.
Dooley needled Simms regarding his pick. The Vols' coach asked Simms in front of reporters how many interceptions he had tossed on the afternoon.
"Just one," Simms said. "Thanks for reminding me."
"I didn't want you to walk off feeling good," Dooley joked to his quarterback. "That was a good play by Gerald. It was one of those batted balls at the line, but the quarterback's got to avoid it. But most of them were Tyler."
While several players noted the length of the scrimmage, Dooley did not get as much special teams work in as he had planned.
"It wasn't as much special teams work as I had hoped," Dooley said. "Punters did a good job. I think we made all of our field goals. We didn't kick that many, though. Usually there are more in this scrimmage. It wasn't anything new with those guys. We're going to have to kind of evaluate where we are with them and where we're headed going forward."
What factors will coaches use?
"We're tallying up the whole camp and seeing, you know, not just statistics but all the data," Dooley explained. "Get-off, hang-time, all that stuff. So we're just kind of trying to put it all together."
Dooley was asked by a reporter if he expected a large turnover in his starting lineups from the opener against Martin to Game 2 against Oregon.
"I have no
I don't even know who's going to be starting the first game," Dooley said. "And I've got to get to the first game. Who do we play the second game? Oregon? [Dramatic pause] I really know that."
It would be easy to forget sophomore Zach Rogers as a viable option in the wide receivers' corps with all the talk surrounding true freshmen Justin Hunter, who did not scrimmage, and Da'Rick Rogers. But Simms praised Rogers, among others, for his work Saturday.
"I thought Zach Rogers had a great day today. He ran great routes, hustled," said Simms, who twice hit Rogers for touchdowns - though one apparently was nullified. "Of course Gerald (Jones) and Denarius (Moore) did a great job blocking down the field for Tauren (Poole) and David Oku. Our O-line, they did a lot of good things today. There were a lot of positives, but it's never as good as you think and it's never as bad as you think."
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