April 17, 2010
By Josh Pate
The battle lasted all spring. It took a turn when one of the competitors left the team. And at the conclusion of Saturday's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium, the question of who will be Tennessee's quarterback for the fall opener against Tennessee-Martin is still to be debated.
Of course, head coach Derek Dooley knew it would be that way. He said at the beginning of spring that the critical position would not be decided until the fall, and even then it could be something that is not concrete.
"This game is always kind of tough because, especially in our situation, Matt and Tyler are kind of different in the things they do well," Dooley said. "It's hard to really shape a game plan to fit their strengths. That's why you don't want to put too much on this game."
Simms anchored the Orange team, while Bray started for the White team. Both had flashes of promise. Both threw touchdown passes. The longest pass by both was for 33 yards.
Bray, whose White team won the game 16-7, took the statistical edge. He went 18-of-40 from the pocket for 200 yards and no interceptions.
Simms, who was elevated to first team status midway through spring, finished 12-of-26 for 125 yards but threw three interceptions. He was sacked five times.
"I played OK," Simms said. "I definitely made some mistakes. I was just happy to get out here and play and see the fans, hear the band play and I'm looking forward to things."
The fans were happy to see peeks at their new quarterback, whomever it may be. Large cheers burst from the crowd of 35,891 - the second-largest crowd to ever attend an Orange and White Game - when both quarterbacks were introduced.
Bray struck first for the White team, connecting with Denarius Moore for a short, 3-yard touchdown with just 21 seconds remaining in the first half. The score made it 10-0 White at the break.
"I was really pleased with his presence out there," Dooley said of Bray. "He's really a high school senior. He wasn't nervous or jittery. He performed the way he has been performing all spring, and that says a lot about him. He made some good throws and he missed some throws. He did a good job."
Did his statistical performance change things on the depth chart? Dooley cautioned that one game doesn't make that call for either quarterback.
"He played how we expected him to play, and that's good," Dooley said. "What didn't happen was a little regression, and that's good. You did see some different skills. A couple of the decisions were disappointing. We have to get better at that, and that doesn't have anything to do with the game plan."
Simms developed a pattern with Gerald Jones in the third quarter, connecting with the senior for a 22-yard gain and then a 33-yard gain to take the Orange squad down to the 6-yard line. He found Jones open again on the next play for the Orange team's only score, at the time cutting the White team's lead to 10-7.
Simms said connecting with the senior wide receivers makes his load lighter.
"Those guys have the great leadership skills," Simms said. "It's easy to get into a good chemistry with them because they know what they're doing at all times."
So after two months of practice, some changes in the depth chart, and three full scrimmages, the Vols are still searching for their starter. Simms, for one, has no problem that the competition will last on through the offseason and into the fall.
"When you're trying to be a leader, it's about what works for you," Simms said. "People are leaders in different ways. (Bray is) going to do it the way he does it. I'm going to do it the way I do it. Whatever works out, works out."