Tennessee Football 2011: Quarterback Conundrum
Just because Tyler Bray has the job doesn't mean there still aren't difficult decisions to consider heading into fall. Matt Simms has plenty of experience running the calls, but Bray defined himself last season with extraordinary passing skills that eclipsed then-junior Simms. The fact that Bray did as well as he did convinced many fans that questions no longer remained when a choice must be made.
After Bray's weaknesses were exposed in the Music City Bowl, a growing crowd of dissension began to grumble that maybe Simms wasn't so bad after all. However, Matt Simms was pummeled into submission early last season by the best of the SEC's defensive fronts before getting benched for concussions—but for the detractors, keeping Simms in the game was like playing a Jonathan Crompton pre-Kiffin. Advocates simply argued he never even had a chance because the offensive line couldn't protect him.
Enter stage left, Justin Worley. When Dooley began his courtship last season, a lot of people, including myself, were wondering why Tennessee was hot after Worley. He had played an admirable sophomore and junior season, but many expected it was a fluke and that he would be unable to continue with any real success. Then he was given the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Then he came out in the Orange and White game and teased us all with displays of bulls-eye passing skills.
How do we really know who the best man is?
No Love for Simms
Despite the fact that Matt Simms was sacked no less than three times in each of his starts last season, the lanky 6'3" 215-pound junior routinely took everything that was thrown at him and kept getting back up.
The sad part is, despite his best efforts he was repeatedly compared to Jonathan Crompton before he got better, and there was no love. Even after a loss to Oregon where he was splatted over and over by the Ducks' DEs he was criticized for holding onto to the ball too long, and in the same day was blasted for getting rid of the ball too quickly.
Even if Peyton Manning himself had been playing in the same games that Simms had, the results would have been the same.
Much Ado About Bray?
Yes, yes, well done Tyler Bray. Well done indeed...but hold on a second.
Bray did remarkably well against the remainder of the schedule, but he still flopped against Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. 'Bama being the worst where he completed five of 14 attempts. Hey wait, the line wasn't protecting him, it wasn't his fault (one might add). Then I guess Simms should be given a pardon as well, right? Hmm.
What Bray did do was throw for an average of 315 yards in each of his four wins against sub-standard teams. Given the opportunity, is it fair to assume that Matt Simms could have put up winning numbers against those same teams?
Is Worley Really That Good?
The real answer can not be vocalized until he takes the field against a real powerhouse. Even though he's considered to be an improvement in terms of raw talent, talk is cheap in the SEC.
But, the fact remains that many defensive coordinators are happier to be facing Bray than Worley. Remember Bray's interception record last season? A pick every 22.4 attempts.
What Worley offers on the field is the superior athleticism that won him so many coveted awards during his high school career. And yes, we all know that trophies won't win you ball games, but it does highlight what he is and what he can offer Tennessee's offense.
Crunch the Numbers
Every fan knows that stats do not account for success, but it doesn't hurt either. Would you be surprised to know that a Matt Simms completion rate is higher than Tyler Bray's?
Bray compiled a 55.8 percent completion rate compared to Matt Simms' of 57.9, 113/195 completions. It warrants listing because virtually every single person who said anything about Simms, revolved around very staunch criticism. So to recap: Simms threw five interceptions last season—that's turning the ball over in 39 pass attempts.
Even a critic has to recognize the fine line between favoritism.
What If Bray Fails?
Everybody is convinced that Tyler Bray will succeed, and very few have made mention of failure scenarios.
Yeah, sure he was on fire last season, but what happens if there is a failure to launch? What will be the pretext for Derek Dooley to bench Tyler Bray should he fall flat on his face? Furthermore, how will he decide who jumps into the saddle?
If you look for experience, it's really a no-brainer. Matt Simms is the quickest answer because it just makes sense, and you would try to protect the arguably-best QB who might not be game-ready, as coaches would call it.
If opinion counts, Worley is ready—but how do you gauge readiness? A good rule of thumb is, if the QBs are within an arm's reach with their helmet on, they are mentally ready. The physical part is proven on the field.
Can Doak Raulston and Nash Nance Be Counted On?
I certainly hope that Bray, Simms and Worley stay healthy. Because every single good thing I hear about Doak Raulston and Nash Nance is usually mated with an equally damning insult.
To be honest, we really know nothing of the two past high school. Raulston got into a little alcohol-related trouble a while back, and Nance seems perfectly content to stay in the shadows. Raulston also followed Dooley from Louisiana Tech; it lends belief that there might be something to his talent. But, like Nance, it hasn't been seen...yet.
Then there is Myles McKee. Who? Yeah, I know.
Apparently, somebody saw something in this kid that nobody else did; over 5,000 somebody elses. McKee was ranked No. 5138 nationally, but was somehow ranked No.1 in the state of North Carolina. I won't pass judgement as I have not witnessed his ability in person, but for fun you can check it out here.
Six QBs and we're still out there recruiting gunslingers. Wow, I feel like they're making beef stew with bologna on a broken oven.