No time for pouting

Being the son of a former NFL quarterback can be difficult. Being the son of a former NFL quarterback and being a senior backup for your college team ... well, that's a double whammy.

Fortunately for the Tennessee football program, Matt Simms lost his job but not his poise when Tyler Bray supplanted him as the Vols' No. 1 quarterback last November. Swallowing his disappointment, Simms elected not to transfer and not to pout. Instead, he seems to be handling his role with remarkable grace this preseason.

"It's going well," he said cheerfully following a recent practice. "I'm just trying to enjoy my senior year and trying to get better at the same time. It's a lot going on but I'm enjoying every minute of it."

Easy to achieve when you're preparing to be your team's No. 1 quarterback, focus is a bit more elusive when you're relegated to a backup role at a position in which the backup rarely plays.

"The focus is to continue to get better and try and help improve the guys that are around you," Simms said. "You try to teach and learn as much as you can at all times."

Clearly the Vols' No. 1 QB last August, Simms is just as clearly the No. 2 QB this August. Asked if that has changed his approach this preseason, he paused thoughtfully before answering.

"I'm maybe a little more mentor because we have a lot of younger guys that really need to come in and play right away," he said. "At the same time, I still like to think that I'm working as a starter and keep working hard, as if I'm going to start the game this year. Even though I'm not the No. 1 I still need to act like I am."

Simms certainly acts like a No. 1 quarterback. He stays after practice on occasion to watch Tennessee's offensive linemen and tight ends participate in pass-protection drills, exhorting players to give their all. He may not be a starter but he still can be a leader.

"Me and him were workout partners all summer, and I still see him as a leader for this team," junior receiver Zach Rogers said. "He's very vocal. He's a senior, and I look up to him - as a person and as a player.

"He's done a great job. He's never out (of the game mentally). He's one play away from getting in the ball game. Even in the offseason you could see it in his eyes."

Simms started Tennessee's first eight games of 2010 but was pulled after the Vols stumbled to a 2-6 record. He believes he has improved considerably since last fall in several key areas.

"Decision-making, obviously," he said. "It's my second year in the system now. I'm a better teammate; you know your teammates better. You know your personnel better and you're a little more comfortable with everyone around you. That's probably the biggest thing."

At 6-6 and 202 pounds, Bray appears alarmingly brittle and susceptible to injury. Asked if that helps him stay ready to step in at quarterback, Simms shrugged.

"There's a lot of guys that are big, and they get hurt, too," he said. "He's a great football player, and I've got to help him out as much as I can. He can help me out with things, too. We've just got to help each other."

If he were so inclined, Simms could complain that the deck was stacked against him last fall. He faced the best teams on Tennessee's schedule, whereas Bray faced softer opposition. Moreover, Simms operated behind an offensive line that was ridiculously young and inexperienced.

"The offensive line was young last year," he conceded. "They weren't a bad O-line at all but now they're superstars. They know the system. Coach (Harry) Hiestand has been around them for a full year, so they're going to be a tremendous offensive line for us this year."

Naturally, Simms hopes to get a chance to operate behind this year's offensive line. In the meantime, he must settle for getting some advice from his famous father, former New York Giants standout Phil Simms.

"He just told me to be a man beyond my years," Matt said. "Even though I'm 22, he tells me to act like I'm a 40-year-old quarterback like Brett Favre: Treat every day like it's your last and have fun."


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