March 17, 2010
BY JOSH PATE
Derek Dooley knows his quarterbacks. He's met with each of them and shared expectations. He's watched film, studied statistics, looked for trends.
Just don't expect him to name a starter anytime soon.
Who will be Tennessee's starting quarterback for new head coach Dooley is the golden question. Who has that answer is even tougher.
Dooley points to the players: It's their team. If they want to have success, it's up to them. All he can do is provide the means to win the job.
That begins Thursday afternoon, when the Vols open spring practice.
"Any time you start with a new quarterback, it's a hard management issue because there's only one ball and only one play and only one guy doing it at a time," Dooley said Wednesday during a press conference inside Neyland Stadium. "The way we structure practice, we're going to give them plenty of opportunity and plenty of reps. I can tell you this: the quarterback position will not be settled by the end of spring. This is a body of work over time."
In 2008, he started six games and threw for 840 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also took meaningful snaps against Georgia and Alabama, throwing for 208 yards against the Bulldogs and 137 yards against the Crimson Tide.
Last season Stephens was the only quarterback other than Crompton who saw action, throwing for 142 yards in three games.
But Stephens isn't the only candidate.
Junior college transfer Matt Simms (6-foot-3, 209) comes to Tennessee after throwing for 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns at El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif. His season was cut short because of a broken hand, but he's recovered and is already enrolled at UT.
Freshman Tyler Bray (6-6, 192) is also enrolled and has been working with the Vols since December. Rivals.com ranked Bray the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the nation. He threw for 3,321 yards and 41 touchdowns his senior season at Kingsburg (Calif.) High School.
The challenge is to figure out who is the best fit, and that, Dooley said, will take time.
"Once we get to a decision and go with it, sometimes it's still not settled until we go out there and perform and see if we can move the chains and score points," Dooley said. "So we're not going to do a day-trading, this guy's winning, this guy's losing. We're going to go through spring and mix it up, try to equalize reps. The guys who are producing the best will get more reps, and we'll evaluate it as we go."
Dooley stressed that no one has an edge in the race as of now, but UT's new head coach does have some specifics in mind: accuracy, solid decision-making and moxy.
"At the end of the day, do the other 10 guys on offense and the rest of the team believe you're our guy?" Dooley said. "I've seen where coaches all say, `That's the guy. He's more talented than that guy.' During the game, the chains are not moving and points aren't scored. You have no choice but to put in this other guy, who you think stinks. And all of a sudden the runner breaks three tackles and gets 30 yards, the receiver jumps up one handed and eats peanuts off the man at corner and gets a touchdown. You're going, `Why didn't he do it for the other guy?' That's the intangible element that is hard to measure."
So the race is not settled. It's only beginning.
And when the Orange and White Game takes place April 17, don't expect the Vols to have a clear-cut starter at quarterback.
"Can the other 10 guys look and say that's our guy?" Dooley said. "I think that's the challenge for any quarterback anywhere in the country."