Simms, Bray vying for starting position
Tailback Tauren Poole noticed a different Tyler Bray at Monday’s practice.
“You could see he’s more focused, he was into it,” Poole said. “It seemed like he was ready to go.
“If it’s his shot, I think he’ll take full advantage of it.”
Bray received plenty of chances Monday to build off the repetitions he received Saturday against Alabama. While the rest of the team stretched and went through early practice drills, starter Matt Simms, with a bulky brace on his left knee, watched from the side as Bray ran drills with the first-team offense.
Simms was noticeably limping at the end of practice and was not made available for interviews.
How coach Derek Dooley plans to divide repetitions between the two quarterbacks Saturday at South Carolina, and whether it will be affected by Simms’ health are yet to be determined.
“The chances are we’ll maybe stick with the same plan, but I think it’s too early to tell,” Dooley said earlier in the day at his weekly press conference. “We’ll figure it out by the end of the week.”
After Saturday’s game, Simms said he strained the knee after taking a hit in the second quarter against Alabama. It then stiffened up on him throughout the game.
Dooley said Bray, who saw action in both halves for the first time this season, was better Saturday than his stat line — 5-of-14, 39 yards and an interception. Both Simms and Bray, who was 4-of-8 for 24 yards in the fourth quarter, threw interceptions near the goal line.
“He got experience,” Dooley said. “I don’t think looking back we would have won the game had we not played him. He put together some nice drives late in the game and didn’t finish them off, which is what Matt did.”
Poole said Bray “does a great job of commanding the huddle and bringing confidence to the offense.”
“You can tell he wants to be a great quarterback,” Poole said.
Banged And Bruised: Cornerback Marsalis Teague walked with a noticeable limp and was limited at Monday’s practice because of a turf toe injury he sustained in the second quarter Saturday.
Dooley singled out Teague as the only new player he was concerned about being ready for Saturday’s game at South Carolina.
“He’s a day-to-day guy,” Dooley said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but sometimes when you’ve got to run and cut, a toe can be a real nagging injury.”
Dooley said he’d know more about the status of kicker Daniel Lincoln (quadriceps) as the week unfolded. Lincoln has not kicked since September.
Defensive tackle Montori Hughes (ankle) and offensive guard JerQuari Schofield (foot) are both expected to be at full capacity against the Gamecocks.
Hughes, after barely practicing during the week, played briefly against Alabama. Schofield hasn’t seen the field since the Vols’ loss to Florida, when he left the game with a broken metatarsal bone in his left foot.
Schofield, who will rotate with Jarrod Shaw at left guard, said he’s “90 percent” healthy.
“I feel like I can do my best to do whatever I can do to help the team,” Schofield said. “It will just give us a little more depth and a little more rotation.”
Wide receiver Denarius Moore (concussion) wore a red non-contact jersey at Monday’s practice, but is expected to play Saturday.
Special Attention: Four weeks in a row of some kind of substitution snafu have prompted Dooley to make a bold decision.
The Vols simply won’t be substituting on field goal blocks anymore.
Though the substitution errors have crept up in other defensive formations, most notably on the goal line against LSU earlier in the month, field goal block has been affected the most.
“Our goal on field goal block this week is to have 11 men on the field,” Dooley said. “Now we’re going to have to teach them what to do and all that. We probably won’t block the kick.”
Thanks to five misses from UAB kicker Josh Zahn last month, opponents have hit just 10-of-18 field goals (55 percent) against the Vols this season. The remaining kickers now will have the opportunity to up that average against significantly weaker pressure.
Dooley assured that he didn’t make the decision out of his own desire. It’s out of necessity.
“I’ve always wanted to go pluck one, be aggressive,” Dooley said. “To do that you have to substitute people and get your best rushers, edge guys.
“Hey, it’s what we got to do because we obviously aren’t good enough coaches to do it the other way. That’s a fact.”
Andrew Gribble can be reached at 865-342-6327.