No-picks performance

He had no idea how many passes he completed to Tennessee receivers in Tuesday's scrimmage but Matt Simms knew how many he completed to Vol defenders ... zero. That was three fewer than the last time he performed inside Neyland Stadium, which produced a relieved smile.

Simms completed just 12 of 26 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the Orange & White Game last April, throwing three interceptions that helped seal his team's doom in a 16-7 loss. His return to Shields-Watkins Field went considerably smoother.

"It's not much to compare with because I didn't play very well in the Orange & White Game," Simms conceded with a pained grin. "It definitely improved. I'm definitely getting better with some of the small details of our offense. I feel good about today, but it's a small stepping stone."

Simms finished 9 of 21 for 80 yards and a touchdown. Freshman backup Tyler Bray was 11 of 22 for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The scrimmage was held under game-type conditions, with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney signaling in plays from the sidelines rather than relaying them vocally from behind the huddle. For the most part, communication was good.

"I'm definitely a lot more confident (getting calls from the sidelines) than I was earlier this spring," Simms said. "It's definitely a smoother operation, now that we understand what's asked of us."

Apparently so. The various offensive combinations played the entire scrimmage without giving up a fumble or an interception.

"We had no turnovers, so that's a big thing for us because that's definitely something they stress on the other side of the ball," Simms said. "That's always a positive thing coming out of a scrimmage like this."

In addition, the QB said he could remember only two offensive penalties called during the scrimmage.

"Especially when we're going 1s, 2s and 3s, that's pretty impressive, especially with the young guys not knowing what to do on every play," Simms said. "We didn't hurt ourselves on any of our drives today."

Little is expected of a Tennessee offense that lost a 2,800-yard passer (Jonathan Crompton), a 1,345-yard rusher (Montario Hardesty) and all five line starters from 2009. For what it's worth, Simms felt the attack unit distinguished itself.

"I thought as an offense today we really did well," he said. "We executed the run game really well, and that young offensive line is really coming around."

Tennessee's No. 1 O-line consists of a true freshman (JaWuan James), a redshirt freshman (JerQuari Schofield), a sophomore (Dallas Thomas), a junior (Cody Pope) and a senior (Jarrod Shaw). Shaw has three career starts; the rest zero. Considering the level of inexperience, Simms thought the blockers were a bright spot Tuesday afternoon.

"It was unbelievable to see how focused they were in the huddle," he said. "They were pumping each other up on each and every play. They were giving Tauren (Poole) and David (Oku) a lot of room to work with today."

Poole broke a 49-yard ramble on the scrimmage's opening snap and finished with 62 yards on two carries. Oku added 37 yards on six rushes, Toney Williams 14 yards on 4 tries and freshman Rajion Neal 14 on 6 carries. Naturally, Simms was pleased to see the ground attack be productive.

"There was positive yards in the run game almost every play," he said. "The decision-making today was pretty good. It's getting a little better but each day we've got to keep improving on it."

The busiest receiver was senior Denarius Moore, who caught five passes for 85 yards. Freshman Justin Hunter added three grabs for 56 yards and fellow freshman Da'Rick Rogers three for 18. Senior Gerald Jones had just one catch but it gained 30 yards.

Given the offense's surprising level of success, it was inevitable that someone asked if the defenses were somewhat limited schematically. Answer: A little.

"With Coach Wilcox, there's always a lot of stuff coming at you," Simms said, referring to defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. "The biggest thing for us is just to execute, stay positive and focus on the details."

Tennessee may rely heavily on freshman receivers Da' Rick Rogers, Matt Milton and Justin Hunter. Simms believes he's developing good timing with each of the three.

"It's definitely improved so much from the summer," he said. "These past few days it's unbelievable (how) these young guys are coming together."

Simms has come a long way over the summer, as well. He seems much more poised than he was last spring.

Asked to pinpoint where he has improved most, he replied: "Just knowing my assignments, knowing the little details, knowing where to go with the ball and not turning the ball over."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories