Matt Simms and the Case for Worley’s Redshirt to Turn Orange

The injury to Tyler Bray brings multiple problems and opportunities.

The obvious problem is losing Bray’s potential based on past performance: 116-for-176 (66%) for 1,579 yards (9.0 yds per attempt), 316 yards per game, 14 TDs, and only 2 INTs in 2011. One of the most promising sophomore QBs in the nation.

The next problem is Bray’s replacement: Matt Sims. That is where opportunity knocks.

This handoff first went to the left, and now it has gone back to the right. Photo courtesy The Tennessee Journalist.

Word has it that his teammates respect him immensely, partly because of how he has dealt with his demotion from the first-string position nearly a year ago.

Simms is also a senior. Bray was a leader on the field, but Simms could be as well. The Vols are now ripe for adopting a siege mentality. “No one believes in us, not even a majority of our own fanbase.” This has helped teams in many sports over the years. This team could rally around Simms.

Of course, Simms has to perform, too. And that is the ultimate litmus test.

But the hidden factor is how Simms has developed over the past 11+ months. He most certainly was feeling pretty angry and perhaps down on himself during November. But Simms didn’t seem to outwardly carry that with him to spring camp, the Orange and White Game, nor summer camp. Perhaps whatever feelings he had at the end of last season was his fuel for future success.

Who knows but that we will see a different Matt Simms this October? You don’t know. I don’t know. This is his final shot at becoming a college QB that made a difference. He may be hell bent on making the most of it.

But let’s look at one more thing – what if Simms gets injured? What then?

***

I’ve read countless remarks indicating many people think this season is a lost cause. Well, if you believed that Tennessee had a chance to win the SEC East, then you are right. But that cause was lost long before Bray broke his thumb. What these folks are thinking is that without Bray, we are completely lost and it really doesn’t matter what happens the rest of 2011.

Wrong.

A 6-6 season means a bowl game, which is an aid to recruiting. As disappointing a final W-L line 6-6 would be for many, it will be a result with positive consequences over the alternatives of 5-7, 4-8, or yes even the unthinkable 3-9. Which brings us back to the last question – what if Simms gets injured?

Let’s say that things in October go according to probability – Tennessee loses to LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina. The Vols at that point will be 3-5 on the season, and looking at a November where 3 wins are a must to go bowling. This season, November includes a game at Arkansas, not a home game against Ole Miss like last year.

And let’s say that Simms gets injured late in the South Carolina game and is out for the remainder of the season. And let’s also say that Bray will not be able to play until at least a December bowl game (very possible).

At that point, we would be faced with playing MTSU in Knoxville, for starters, with no quasi-established QB. Remember, we’ve lost against worse teams with better personnel.

Please note that I’m painting a ‘nuclear scenario’ here – no Bray and no Simms for November. I’m not talking about for a couple plays here and there – other options exist for that (e.g., a Wildcat formation).

***

This week, Derek Dooley named Justin Worley as Bray’s backup for Saturday’s game against LSU. Being named as the backup doesn’t burn his redshirt status – only a game appearance would. So, do you burn Justin Worley’s redshirt, or not?

With high school colors like that, it's a wonder Vol redshirt freshman QB Justin Worley didn't go to Baton Rouge.

Last year, Worley was a high school quarterback at Rock Hill, South Carolina (Northwestern H.S.), the Gatorade National Player of the Year (past winners of this award include Peyton Manning). During his senior season, Worley’s school won the South Carolina State Championship (Class AAAA-Div II), fueled by his passing – 5,315 yards and 64 TDs. Those numbers are for only his senior season.

He brings a lot of promise for the Vols in a couple of years. A lot of promise, but no guarantees.

“The plan” was for Bray to finish his stint as Vol QB after his senior season; at that point, Worley would have the opportunity to be the Vol QB for his junior and season seasons. Or, perhaps if Bray developed into first round NFL draft material by the end of his junior season, Worley could have three seasons as the man.

But if you burn his redshirt status this season, Worley could conceivably have only his senior season as Tennessee’s number one. With that scenario, it is conceivable that Worley might look to transfer for a better opportunity – a chance at starting for three seasons at another school.

So, if we’re faced with having to defeat MTSU, Vandy, and Kentucky to get to a bowl game, without Bray and Simms, Worley’s redshirt will likely turn orange.

Bank on it.

***

Derek Dooley doesn’t strike me as the kind of man, especially under the present circumstances, to think about a lot of ‘what if’s’ under the nuclear scenario I’ve painted. Faced with the possibility of a losing regular season record, and more importantly, no bowl appearance, Dooley will not be thinking about the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and whether or not Worley will be the starter for both, or only one, or the possibility of Worley transferring.

Dooley will burn that redshirt as if his life depended on it. And his life might very well depend on it – Dooley might not be around in 2014 or 2015.

Under my nuclear scenario, Dooley will ask himself, “Who gives me the best shot at winning 3 of the last 4? Nash Nance? Or, Justin Worley.”

Like I said, bank on it.

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2 responses to “Matt Simms and the Case for Worley’s Redshirt to Turn Orange”

  1. tk says :

    thanks for discussing what needed to be discussed……i have some sort of weird gut feeling that simms may do good. dont know why, just a feeling. now is the time for our fans to get behind him though instead of mumble under their breath.
    an interesting question popped up at work yesterday fred. tennessee has shown the tendency to be a better first half team since dooley arrived. has does “second half only” scoring, points far and points against, tally up for the vols in the second half since dooleys arrival. go to work on this!!!

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