Quarterbacks are the most heavily scrutinized person on the field. They are responsible for leading the offensive drive and executing the coaches play call. One bad play and the game could be over. They are expected to be accurate. They are expected to be team leaders, accurate, have strong arms, take hard hits, then get up and continue playing. These are just a few of the qualities of a good quarterback. Does Tennessee have anyone who can fulfill the requisites of a successful quarterback this fall?
In the SEC we take our football seriously. Therefore we hold our players to a higher standard. This may be an understatement when looking at the expectations Vol fan’s have for their quarterbacks. We have been fortunate at Tennessee to be able to claim one of, if not the, greatest quarterbacks of all time. Unfortunately everyone who follows him is still living in his shadow even thirteen years later.
Peyton Manning led the Vols from 1994-1997. During that time UT went 39-6 and won an SEC championship his senior season. At Neyland he was 22-2, on the road 13-3, and at neutral sites 4-1. He never could beat Florida, but he only lost only two additional games to other opponents during his time here. Pretty impressive. Manning completed 863 passes out of 1381 for 11,201 yards and 89 TD’s while at UT.
He has set the UT records for attempts in a career, completions in a career, yards in a career, touchdowns in a career, yards in a season, attempts in a game, completions in a game, and yards in a game. He is second only to Erik Ainge in Season attempts and completions and game touchdowns. Manning threw for over 500 yards against Kentucky in 1997, had over 70 plays against Florida in 1996, two 3,000 yard seasons and his sophomore campaign was only 40 yards shy of becoming a third. Yes Peyton is the golden standard for a Tennessee Volunteer Quarterback.
Since his departure, Tennessee has had good quarterbacks in Clausen, Ainge, and Martin. While at times during their careers they may have been injured or not been in first on the depth chart they each have contributed greatly to the rich history of Tennessee football. After Manning left Martin replaced him and led the 1998 team, which returned almost every other starter from 1997, to an undefeated regular season and won the National Championship! Martin was 13-0 at Neyland, 2-1 in neutral site games, and 7-2 on the road as a starter. Tee threw 326 of 588 passes for 4,592 yards and 32 touchdowns during his career.
After Martin, the Vols struggled through a few quarterbacks before settling on Casey Clausen, who struggled with injuries and throwing some ill-timed interceptions during his career. Casey, however, is firmly in the top 5 in most major passing categories at UT after completing 775 passes out of 1270 for 9,707 yards and 75 touchdowns. Clausen was 18-5 in Neyland, 2-4 in neutral sites, and 14-1 on the road. His only road loss was at Auburn, meaning Clausen beat Alabama and Florida twice on the road. Upon his departure in 2003 the Vols, were plunged into their first of many future quarterback battles with no clear back up.
There were three quarterbacks who started games during the next four seasons but the overwhelming majority began with Erik Ainge under center. Ainge completed 773 passes out of 1210 for 8700 yards and 72 touchdowns. Ainge was 15-4 in Neyland, 1-2 in neutral games, and 11-4 on the road. Ainge bested Manning in three categories including touchdowns in a game with 7 versus Kentucky in 2007. However Ainge won’t be remembered for this success but only the costly interception in the SEC championship game that season.
After Ainge left in 2007 the Vols were looking forward to former top recruit Jonathon Crompton taking the helm. However this much-anticipated quarterback would soon learn just how intense the scrutiny that comes with the job could be. Crompton completed 348 passes out of 629 during these past two seasons for 4,187 yards and 36 touchdowns. Decent numbers for a quarterback right? Wrong. Not at Tennessee. Not when you also throw for 22 interceptions. Ill timed passes and games slipping away that we should have won plague fans’ memories of the Crompton era. But I just want to say this. In 2009 Crompton made vast strides the later half of the season and turned out to be a decent quarterback. If he had performed like that in 2008 who knows where we would be right now?
But he didn’t. Instead he led us to a 5-6 season in 2008 that saw the end of the Phillip Fulmer era and the Kiffin and Co fiasco take over for a year. Stephens assisted in the 5-6 season but Crompton led for the majority of the year. That is what a Quarterback can do here. Fulmer was loyal to his OC and would have let him go at the end of the year but he would not make such a change in the middle of the season. He took away play calling a little too late. Heck he should have never made the hire in the first place but oh well he did and he sucked. However most people don’t associate the blame immediately on Dave Clawson. Rather they associate it with Jonathon Crompton. Therefore the quarterback is responsible for getting Fulmer fired after 17 years, a national title, multiple SEC championships and appearances, and one of the highest winning percentages ever. I like coach Fulmer but now that he is gone I can see that we are starting a new as a program and there should be exciting times a head. But do we have our Quarterback of the future yet?
Since Manning left UT has had good quarterbacks. I would rate them Manning, Martin, Clausen, Ainge, Crompton. Hmm. Interesting that they have gotten “worse” over time. You can blame recruiting. That has to be the reason why, right? Nope, Crompton and Ainge were solid recruits. Ainge, I think, played at the level his ranking suggested he was capable of playing. Crompton did not but thats a lame excuse as he had to change offenses 3 times and deal with death threats from over the top fans. No the real reason is that Vols have their expectations at such a high level that everyone will fail unless they are Peyton Manning reincarnate.
Is this wrong of us? No of course not. We should expect the best. Do we take it to far sometimes? Yes. A kid should never have his life threatened for losing a football game. Ever. That said lets take a look at the talent we have for this fall.
Senior Nick Stephens has decided to transfer after feeling like he would not earn the starting spot for this fall. During his career, 72-143 982 yards 5 tds 4 ints, he wowed us with deep passes to Moore and temper tantrums on the sidelines. If he doesn’t want to be here fine and I wish him the best of luck but I wish he would have stayed.
I wish he would have stayed for only one reason and that is because of the depth chart. BJ Coleman is no longer around after Kiffin did not give him the shot he thought he deserved. Coleman was the next Peyton in David Cutcliff’s mind but no, Coleman is now carrying out his career at UTC and was 227-401 2,348 yards and 17 td’s last season. This highly recruited and talented kid would have been a huge asset for the Vols this fall but unfortunately we are down to two players who have never taken a NCAA division 1 snap. However these guys aren’t bad and no one knows how they will react to game day experience.
If the season were to start tomorrow it looks as if former Louisville signee and El Camino Community College transfer Matt Simms would be the first choice. At 6’3″ and 212 lbs he is a decent sized quarterback and has a little experience under his belt from last season at El Camino. During his season he completed 159-269 for 2204 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has a strong arm and good leadership skills. If his accuracy improves, and this was his main focus this spring and summer, then Simms could be just the guy we need to make the offense click this fall.
In high school Simms threw for over 6000 yards and 60 touchdowns. This led to his recruitment to Louisville where he was expected to contribute. After a problem with the coach and being pushed down the depth chart he decided to transfer. Now more mature and experienced Simms impressed Coach Dooley enough this fall that he has publicly stated that he holds an edge in the race without naming him the starter.
Rivals *** #14 Pro Style QB, #8 NJ
Scout*** #43 QB
Tyler Bray is the other quarterback who is jockeying for starting rights this fall. Bray is a 6’6” 200 lb quarterback from Kingsbury, CA. Having already added 10 or so pounds since his arrival in December, Bray looks to continue to bulk up in preparation for this fall. A redshirt year would have benefited him in this area but he has the talent and the ability to play now. I like Bray and think that he should start so that come next year we have a 1 year starter who has experience and will be here longer. The Vols are young and the more they can bond together now the better we will be in two or three years.
Bray wasn’t Lane Kiffin’s first choice at QB but he was a solid pick in my mind. At the 2009 elite 11 competition Bray was given the Golden Gun Accuracy Award and Most Upside Award as well as finishing second in MVP voting. During his senior season he completed 185 of 302 passes for 3321 yards. This 61.3% completion rate saw 41 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Bray can also run as he carried the ball 44 times for 171 yards and 2 more touchdowns.
I think that Bray will continue to improve and could be starting by season end.
Rivals **** #7 Pro-Style QB, #131 USA, #21 CA
Scout *** #26 QB
The Vols have Nash Nance to back up Bray and Simms. He threw for 3000 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior in Calhoun, GA. This kid is well liked by Coach Chaney and has a well established relationship throwing the ball with our best freshman receiver. With work he could be a huge asset for us in the future.
Scout *** #77 QB
Besides Simms, Nance, and Bray the Vols have Nick Lamaison, who Kiffin brought in as back up last year as a transfer from Mt San Antonio College in Covina, CA where he threw for 3479 yards and 36 TD’s. Lamaison was viewed as very raw and a project and has not been able to work his way up the depth chart. Rumors have abounded this off season that he may transfer but as of right now he is still on campus in the program.
Walk on Mike Fromke from CAK here in Knoxville is the other QB option. His senior year he was 166-306 for 2201 yards 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. However he is not SEC talent and neither is Laminson. Neither should see the field this fall if the two top quarterbacks don’t get hurt.
And for the sake of the program lets hope that doesn’t happen. We need a good season in Big Orange Country. Coach Darin Hinshaw has been signed on by Coach Dooley to help accomplish this. Some may not be too excited about this hire. I know I wasn’t. Tee Martin is up the road at Lexington when he should be here in Knoxville in Orange. Can you imagine Martin, Thompson, and Chuck Smith recruiting in Georgia and Alabama??? However Hinshaw is a good coach and hopefully will succeed. If not I know who his replacement should be.
Hinshaw was a record setting quarterback at UCF in the 1990’s where he set every major passing record including passing for over 9000 yards and 82 touchdowns. He then played a short stint with the Cleveland Browns before going to the Arena Football League with the Orlando Predators and Nashville Kats.
During the off seasons he worked towards and earned his MBA at UCF before beginning his coaching career there as a GA in 1999. He took over as QB coach in 2000 before heading to MTSU in 01 to be the RB coach. With in two years he earned the title of Co-Offensive Coordinator and the Blue Raiders consistently led the Sun Belt in offense for the next three years. In 2006 he left the Blue Raiders to be the OC and QB coach at Georgia Southern where he helped lead the new team to 27th in the nation in total offense averaging 359.9 yards per game.
After the one season with Georgia Southern he left for Memphis where he took over the WR coaching job. During his 3 years on staff he coached the two best wide outs in school history in Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton. Calhoun caught 212 passes for 2981 yards and 19 touchdowns while Singleton caught 164 passes for 2305 yards and 22 touchdowns. However Tommy West’s staff was not retained after his firing at the end of 2009 and it is believed Dooley was going to make this hire for LA Tech before making it at UT.
Hinshaw replaces David Reaves as QB coach. Reaves is now with New Mexico as the QB coach and Passing Coordinator. As Kiffin’s brother-in-law, Reaves was brought in from South Carolina where he was RC and QB coach. He was a Rivals top 25 recruiter and signed a top 10 class in 2007. That class is supposed to finally bring South Carolina over the 7 win hump this year. I don’t know who I’d rather have between the two as a coach but I’m starting to like Hinshaw as he recruits in Florida for us and is getting some highly rated prospects to visit.
So what to take from this? Neither of our top two quarterbacks are Peyton Manning, at least right now as Bray kind of reminds me of Peyton. We are very thin and can’t afford too many injuries. We have a relatively young QB coach but have an OC who can assist. That said our quarterbacks are talented and if given a chance they can succeed.