Matt Simms admits he didn’t always know what he was doing during spring practice.
Always confident in himself, the junior college transfer had to pretend to his teammates that he knew what he was doing behind center during spring practice.
“I would look at the guys in the huddle and say, ‘Here we go. We got such and such play. Let’s do it.’ And I’d be thinking in my head, ‘All right now, what do I really have to do here?’ I made them believe I knew what I was doing, and now I finally know what I am doing,” Simms said.
One person Simms wasn’t fooling was head coach Derek Dooley.
“He wasn’t fooling me,” Dooley said. “He was fooling the team, but I knew he had no idea what he was doing. I think that his confidence is going to be built every day by the investment he’s putting in, and nobody has put in a greater investment on being a good player on our team better than him.”
The investment Simms made over the summer can be attributed to the advice he received from senior leaders Gerald Jones, Chris Walker and Nick Reveiz.
“(They) really took me under their wing, told me that if you want to be the starting quarterback, you really have to work hard, and we’ve gotta see it,” he said.
The quarterback position will be even more crucial to the offense’s success this year, with only three starters among the returning offensive linemen.
The Vols will enter the season without a signal-caller that has thrown a pass in the SEC.
“I don’t think any coach goes into the season with a quarterback who has taken zero snaps and feeling like we’re OK at that position,” Dooley said. “Even if he’s the best ... you really never know until he gets out there.”
Simms gives Tennessee the most experience and enters fall camp as the favorite to start. He played sparingly his freshman season at Louisville and appeared in 10 games last season for El Camino Community College in California. This summer, he worked to improve his decision-making and reducing his turnovers.
The only other scholarship quarterbacks on the team are true freshman Tyler Bray and Nash Nance.
Bray enrolled in school in January and participated in spring practice, while Nance arrived in the summer and will see his first collegiate action in fall camp.
Simms and Bray developed a good friendship over the summer, and Simms sees a bright future ahead for Bray.
“Tyler and I get along really well,” Simms said. “He reminds me a lot of me when I was a freshman. He has all the talent in the world and a cannon for an arm. We get along. We like the same things. We have a good relationship.”
In addition to bonding with teammates and embracing a leadership role, Simms impressed everyone in attendance at the Manning Passing Academy, a four-day camp featuring some of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Simms was one of the camp’s top performers, a camp even he was amazed with when he saw over a thousand high school players there.
“I show up and was thought, ‘Wow, this is a huge deal,’” Simms said. “It was a great experiece hanging out with all those quarterbacks and being around Peyton, Eli and Archie (Manning) was unbelievable.”
Peyton Manning, a Tennessee football legend, had only one bit of advice for Simms.
“Win,” Simms said with a chuckle. “He wants us to go out there, play hard, represent this school in the right way and go out there and win some games.”
Now firmly affiliated with his teammates and the university, and with fall camp kicking off, Simms can begin focusing on Manning’s advice.