Happy days are here again

Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback looked the part on Tuesday, exhibiting abundant enthusiasm and good humor when he met the press at the Media Center. His mood represented a dramatic departure from the previous encounter.

That was April 18. Minutes after throwing three interceptions in the Orange & White Game, Matt Simms looked beaten and discouraged as he fielded questions. His tone was somber, his answers vague and evasive. He did not look like a guy who was ready to lead a major-college football team in the NCAA's toughest conference.

Fortunately for Tennessee, Simms has regained his self-esteem since that awful spring outing. Helping him regain it was a strong showing at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., three weeks ago. Assisting with a camp run by Peyton, Eli and Archie Manning, Simms got rave reviews for his tight spiral and surgical precision.

"I definitely was surprised," he recalled this week. "I show up for the camp and there's a thousand kids there and I thought 'Wow! This is a huge deal.' It was a great experience hanging out with all of those quarterbacks. And being around Peyton, Eli and Archie was just unbelievable."

Simms' ego got another boost during UT's summer workouts, when he did his best impersonation of a World Cup superstar.

"We played a lot of soccer on Saturdays," he recalled with a smile. "I came in and scored two goals one day, then retired after that."

After throwing 10 passes as a little-used freshman at Louisville in 2008 and starting at El Camino (Calif.) Junior College in 2009, Simms is hardly a proven commodity. Still, he showed enough in spring practice to finish slightly ahead of mid-term freshman Tyler Bray. Their battle resumes today with the start of fall camp but it's a friendly battle.

"Me and Tyler get along really well," Simms said. "It's funny because he reminds me a lot of me when I was a freshman. He's got all the talent in the world - he really does. He's got a cannon for an arm and he's a good athlete. His only problem is he needs to bulk up some and get some muscle."

Like Peyton Manning, Matt Simms comes from a quarterback family. His dad (Phil) was a longtime NFL QB and his older brother (Chris) is a University of Texas alumnus who now plays for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Matt spent some time at Chris's Nashville home during the offseason.

"It was fun to go over there, play some video games, mess around a little bit, have his wife feeding me," Simms said. "That was the big part - just getting some home cooking."

Actually, the "big part" arrives in September, when Simms tries to lead Tennessee through a meat-grinder of a 2010 schedule. Playing quarterback for a big-time program ensures a lot of visibility and a lot of criticism.

"At this position, you're always going to get harsh criticism," Simms said. "You've got the football on every play. There's a lot asked of you."

Chris learned that lesson the hard way at Texas, where he never quite lived up to his over-the-top high school billing. Asked if he has sought his brother's advice on dealing with criticism, Matt shook his head.

"I don't really ask questions of him like that," he said. "It's more fun (topics)."

Then, turning playful once more, he added: "My job is to hopefully have better stats than he did."

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