Human shock absorber

If you think of a football offense as an automobile, the quarterback would be the steering wheel. For the 2010 Tennessee Vols, he'd also be the shock absorber.

Matt Simms was sacked 11 times in the past two games and decked another dozen or so times immediately after releasing the football. Somehow he managed to regain his feet on each occasion - no small feat considering the ferocity of the blows.

"You've got to know how to take a hit properly," he said today. "I know it sounds weird but I really think I've kind of mastered how to take a sack - just protect my body and protect the football - as crazy as that sounds."

"You just kind of relax and let your body go ... not try and brace yourself by putting your hand out. It's one of those things where you just have to go with it. You know what's going to happen and you can't really fight against it."

Asked if he learned this lesson from his father, former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, Matt shook his head.

"That's something I've learned from getting hit a lot," he said, flashing a sheepish grin.

That being the case, operating behind Tennessee's inexperienced offensive line has provided him with a great learning opportunity. Because the young blockers are still learning to pass protect, he's getting hit on a regular basis - absorbing six sacks in Game 3 vs. Florida and five more in Game 4 vs. UAB.

"He has taken a lot of hits," head coach Derek Dooley conceded. "I think we're leading the country in sacks (allowed) probably. And that's not counting the ones he threw away and got shell-shocked on.

"We've got to do a better job of protecting him because he won't make it (at this rate). But he's tough. I give him credit. Not many quarterbacks take a lot of hits and don't get affected. But he hasn't been."

That's a credit to Simms' toughness. He refuses to let a sack bother him, physically or mentally.

"It's something that's going to happen each and every game," he said philosophically. "You just have to continue to fight through it and stay healthy."

Tennessee's quarterbacks were sacked just four times in 2007. Conversely, Simms and backup Tyler Bray already have been sacked 14 times in 2010 - a pace which would produce 42 sacks if extended over a 12-game season. Even though he is taking a pounding, Simms isn't complaining.

"When it happens I don't get mad at the O-line or anything like that," he said. "They're playing as hard as they possibly can. For a lot of young guys up there, they're doing a really good job. Each week they've gotten better."

Asked if he has ever been sacked 11 times in a two-week period before, Simms paused thoughtfully before responding.

"Maybe in high school," he said. "I got lit up a few times in high school. I was only about 170 (pounds), so I wasn't exactly the biggest guy on the field. Now I'm a little bit bigger, so I can take a few more hits."

Even at 217 pounds, however, Simms is dwarfed by the 300-pound defensive tackles who pounce on him each Saturday. Nothing he encountered in high school or junior college could prepare him for that.

"They're bigger at this level, so definitely the hits are a little bit harder," he said. "It's tough at times but that's what comes with playing quarterback."

Certainly, that's what comes with playing quarterback at Tennessee this year.

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