Rough start

The fact one quarterback threw three interceptions in Saturday's Orange & White Game was not unexpected. The surprise was that the junior - not the mid-term freshman - threw them.

Matt Simms' first appearance before Tennessee's fans had its good moments and its bad moments. The transfer from El Camino (Calif.) Community College finished 12 of 26 passing for 125 yards, including a perfectly thrown 6-yard out route to Gerald Jones for a touchdown.

Still, the three interceptions helped seal the Orange team's doom in a 16-7 loss. Though clearly disappointed, Simms tried to be philosophical as he met the press after the game.

"I did some things well, did some things not-so-well," he said. "I'm not going to dwell on anything. I made some good plays and made some plays where I kind of forced the football a little bit. I'm really just excited to get better here in the fall."

The first interception came in a two-minute drill just before halftime, when Simms threw a pass over the middle that safety Darren Myles appeared to wrest away from Jones.

"That was Darren Myles cutting in front," head coach Derek Dooley said after the game, "so I'll have to look at the film (to determine the cause) on that one."

The second pick came on an underthrown deep ball that was picked off by Stephaun Raines.

"I think the long one was a shot play," Dooley said, "where (Raines) made a good play on the ball."

The last interception clearly bothered the coach the most. It was a second-down pass that Anthony Anderson picked off and returned to the Orange 22-yard line. The White added a game-clinching 42-yard field goal moments later.

"Certainly, the last one didn't have to happen, and Matt knows that," Dooley said. "It was second down, and it was not worth the risk."

Tyler Bray may have closed the gap on Simms in the race for the first-team QB job. The rocket-armed freshman completed 18 of 40 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception, although his final pass of the first half would've been picked off if safety Rod Wilks hadn't dropped it. Bray also did a little better job eluding the rush, suffering two sacks to Simms' five.

Dooley expressed pleasure that Bray was not "nervous or jittery," but cautioned that stats from a spring game can be misleading, especially in an equation as complex as a quarterback competition.

"With the quarterbacks, this game is always kind of tough," the head man said, "especially in our situation with Matt and Tyler. They're very different in the things they do well. It's hard to really shape and game plan to fit their strengths, and so that's why you don't want to put too much on this game.

"You do see some physical skills (but) a couple of decisions were disappointing, and we've got to get better at that."

Although Simms' coming-out party before a reported 35,891 fans was not what he had hoped for, he promises to learn from the experience.

"I definitely wanted to be in this position, but obviously I still have a long way to go," he said. "Really, I'm just not going to dwell so much on what I did this spring right now but what do I need to improve upon? Learn the offense more and the progressions and become a more complete player."

It's rare for a guy who has just thrown three picks to have such a positive attitude. But Simms says that is the area in which he has improved the most this spring.

"Really, just having a good positive attitude every day, learning the offense at a good pace and competing every day," he said. "All of that other stuff will come in time if I continue to get better."


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