Bray to start vs. Memphis

Quarterback changes generally fall into three categories: successful, insignificant and disastrous.

Which category Tennessee's switch from junior Matt Simms to freshman Tyler Bray falls into likely will determine whether this season closes on a high note or goes completely into the dumper.

Head coach Derek Dooley confirmed at his Monday news conference what many expected following last Saturday's 38-24 loss at South Carolina: Bray will start Saturday's game at Memphis ahead of Simms, who went 2-6 as a starter in the first eight games.

"We're going to start Tyler Bray this week," the head man said. "I just feel like that's the best thing for our team right now."

Changing quarterbacks is always a gamble. It is no coincidence that Tennessee's two worst seasons of the past 20 years, 2005 and 2008, featured quarterback changes.

In '05 the mantle was passed from sophomore Erik Ainge to senior Rick Clausen, back to Ainge and back to Clausen before ending with Ainge. That team went 5-6.

The '08 season saw the QB job pass from junior Jonathan Crompton to sophomore Nick Stephens, then back to Crompton. That team went 5-7 and cost head coach Phillip Fulmer his job.

Dooley is aware that quarterback changes can be disruptive and divisive. That's why he made this move reluctantly after gradually increasing Bray's role the past few weeks.

"We were throwing Tyler in there in the second quarter, first quarter sometimes," the coach said. "They (teammates) have handled it beautifully. They went out there and made plays for both quarterbacks last week."

Alternately starting Ainge and Clausen in 2005 created a rift among Tennessee players, with each QB having his supporters and his doubters. Dooley sees no such favoritism among this year's Vols.

"I don't see a difference and I don't anticipate one," Dooley said. "But, certainly, if the team doesn't handle it right and the quarterbacks don't handle it right, it can be a problem."

Dooley knows that from first-hand experience. He has seen what so-called "quarterback controversies" can do to a team.

"I've been a part of this in a lot of years, and you never like to be in this place," he said. "We had it two or three times at LSU and we had it both years with the Miami Dolphins. We had it at Louisiana Tech my first year.

"It's hard. But if you have a good team and you communicate what the issues are and why you're doing what you are, the team tends to move on."

Morale is a potential problem whenever an older player loses his job to a younger player. Dooley says Simms handled news of his demotion well, however.

"I had a real good conversation with Matt," Dooley said. "Matt is a team guy. Matt's a high-character guy. Matt's a competitor and Matt's emotional."

Simms' comments after being pulled one series into the third quarter of Saturday's loss to South Carolina exhibited some frustration and anger. Dooley says that's to be expected.

"I wouldn't expect a quarterback to be happy about being pulled out of a game," Dooley said. "But I do believe that he'll be a great team player."

Realizing his post-game comments came across a bit harsh, Simms subsequently apologized to his head coach.

"He was very apologetic for what happened after the game, and I really respect the fact he came to me and said that," Dooley said, adding that the change at QB "has nothing to do with his comments. It's strictly a business evaluation of our team and where we need to go."

Meanwhile, Bray accepted the news of his promotion in typical low-key style.

"He handled it like he handles everything I tell him ... Yes sir," Dooley said, impersonating Bray's soft-spoken manner. "But that (calm demeanor) is a good quality of his."

It will be interesting to see how Bray responds to being the No. 1 quarterback in practice this week.

"I think it'll be business as usual," Dooley said. "He'll just get in there and take the first snap, instead of the second one."

There is no question that Bray has come a long way in recent weeks, showing significant progress in terms of poise and decision-making.

"The more he plays, the more growth he's going to have," Dooley said. "But you have growing pains that come with it. You saw it on the second play of the second half (a pick six). That's a bad growing pain."

The fact Bray will start vs. Memphis does not mean Simms' days as the No. 1 QB are over.

"If he (Bray) needs to take a few series to kind of catch his breath a little bit, we'll put Matt in and see how Matt does," Dooley said. "Until a quarterback says by his play, 'Coach, you're an idiot for not playing me all four quarters,' then we'll just keep sorting through it."

Basically, the change at quarterback is neither an endorsement of Bray nor an indictment of Simms. Both have done good things and bad things.

"The facts are the facts," Dooley said. "We've won two games. Even though we showed some signs by doing a lot better things against a good team last week ... we just feel we need to change things up to try to eliminate some of the bad plays that are happening."


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