The Tennessee Vols finally have something to be excited about. Arguably, for the first time since 1998 the Volunteer faithful have something to be excited about at the quarterback position. This excitement is based on actually performance and not just preseason hype. Yes, Casey Clausen and Erik Ainge had their moments and arguements can be made for them. Overall however Tyler Bray, who is the talk of the town this off season based on his performance the past 4.5 games, and his performance have been something that hasn’t happened in Knoxville with a returning starting quarterback lately. Not only is there hype surrounding the quarterback but the entire offense. The Vol’s are returning their starting running back and all three back ups, everyone is back up front, save senior Jarrod Shaw, in what will be a much improved offensive line, and even though they are losing their trio of senior receivers, the underclassmen Da’Rick Rogers, Zach Rogers, and Justin Hunter have all shown signs of brilliance early on. Yet depth is still paper thin, as behind this group of upcoming sophomores and juniors they don’t have very much at all. That is why offensive recruiting is key for this coaching staff during the off season. Lets take a position by position look at the offense and check out a working depth chart not taking into account possible attrition. Here is Part 1…
Quarterback – Starting Job
Fan favorite Tyler Bray should be the favorite to land the starting spot next season. After stepping in mid season for Matt Simms at quarterback, Bray has ignited the Vols offense with deep passes that fans love to see. Bray has seen action in 8 games this season and has thrown 98 completions from 179 attempts for 1537 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. After another round of off season conditioning and spring practice, Bray should be able to add another 15-20 pounds and improve his skill set even more.
Even though he was not the former coaching staffs first choice at quarterback, looking at statistics he is easily having the best season out of the quarterbacks Kiffin tried to land prior to offering Bray (guys such as Jake Heaps, Jessie Scroggins, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Nate Montana, and Chase Rettig). Bray has reminded fans of all time great Peyton Manning during his freshman campaign and while the comparison may be to early to be fair, if Bray can accomplish anything close to what Manning accomplished the Vols return to prominence won’t take long at all.
Quarterbacks – The Back Ups
Upcoming Senior Matt Simms started the year as the Vols starting Quarterback. Frankly he was a filler until Tyler was ready to assume command of the offense, but do not be mistaken, Simms is an essential piece to this offense. He did his job admirably, throwing 113 completions out of 195 attempts for 1460 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. However Simms had a problem with learning to throw the ball away and instead took sack after sack which frustrated the coaches. This along with the fact that Bray’s practices had improved drastically leading up to the Alabama and South Carolina games allowed the coaches to feel comfortable in starting a quarterback competition mid-season.
If the coaches can hold on to Simms this off season, which to be honest shouldn’t be a problem, then he will be the back up quarterback next year. To have a back up quarterback with starting experience is vital. One injury to Bray and Simms would have to step in. He is essential for depth purposes next season.
If Simms leaves this off season, due to the fact that he won’t start next year more than likely, Nash Nance should be the favorite to take over as back up quarterback. Nance was recruited by Jim Chaney during the 2010 recruiting season and is the best friend of wide out Da’Rick Rogers. Nance redshirted this season and will have had a full year to learn the offense come next fall. As a high school senior Nance was 203 of 297 for 3017 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Although it is highly unlikely Nance will see the field in any meaningful time during his career here, Chaney does like the kid’s potential and that is saying something from the guy who coached Drew Brees, and worked wonders with Tyler Bray this year.
Quarterbacks – Incoming Freshman
If both Simms and Nance are on the roster next fall then fully expect early enrollee to redshirt next year unless he just absolutely explodes during the off season. Talent wise Worley is obviously the best of the three however with rising Sophomore Tyler Bray all but assured the starting job it is very important for depth to separate these two talented quarterbacks by two years. Worley could use the year to learn the offense and adjust to being under center more, as in high school he took the overwhelming majority of snaps from the Shotgun formation.
According to most Vol fans Worley is severely under ranked by the recruiting services and their argument finds validity in the numbers.
The above stats are from maxpreps.com and volquest.com and the career stats are based entirely on the statistics found there.
Yet even though Worley has racked up these stats the past three years, set the record for most completions in the history of high school football in the United States, and if he throws 1 touchdown pass on Friday night will move into 5th on the national all time touchdown passing list, the recruiting services see Worley as a system quarterback and don’t see him as an extra special player at the next level. Recruiting services are not always right when it comes to player evaluations and Vol fans are hoping that they are wrong this time.
The # 1 Pro-Style Quarterback according to Rivals is Jeff Driskel, a Florida commitment. His stats this season are as follows, 138-235 1783 yards 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions along with 151 carries for 1296 yards and 20 touchdowns. The #6 Pro-Style Quarterback on the list is Phillip Ely, an Alabama commitment. His senior year stats are 166-260 2558 yards 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions along with 30 carries for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns. They are both four star in the ratings yet the prolific numbers put up by Worley during his high school career, along with 6 rushing touchdowns his senior season, have earned him the following ratings.
Worley’s arrival as an early enrollee does leave the opportunity for him to claim the starting position and/or back up spot for next season but in the best interest of the program a red shirt year is advised. If taken Worley will have 2 off season conditioning years, 2 spring practices, 2 summer work outs, and 2 fall camps before ever being given the opportunity to play in a game. This time would best be utilized learning the offense and watching film with coaches. Doing this would allow Worley to be the favorite to start once Bray leaves.
Depth Chart Prediction and Position Prediction
- Tyler Bray – Sophomore
- Matt Simms – Senior
- Nash Nance – Redshirt Freshman
- Justin Worley – Freshman
Tyler Bray will start if things hold true during the off season and will be backed up by Matt Simms and Nash Nance although neither will be needed except during mop up duty. Justin Worley will redshirt securing the Vols quarterback issues for the next 4 years. Bray will avoid a sophomore slump and will continue to improve under the direction of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw.
Coming Soon: Wide Receivers
Tyler Bray photo from http://www.isportsweb.com
Matt Simms photo from derickhingle.photoshelter.com
Nash Nance photo from http://www.athenscms.com
Justin Worley photo from www.volnation.com
Tyler Bray photo from http://www.bleacherreport.com