The extra day off came a week later than he wanted.
But Matt Simms certainly wasn’t complaining when it finally arrived Monday.
After another afternoon of punishment and five more sacks on the body of the Tennessee quarterback over the weekend, Simms clearly didn’t mind the day off he and the rest of the Vols got as they try to physically recover before traveling to No. 12 LSU on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.). And with the Tigers likely more capable of battering the quarterback than anybody else Simms has faced early in his UT career, the junior might have needed the recovery time more than anybody else.
“I mean, I definitely needed that day off after Florida, to be honest,” Simms said. “So, I’ve got this day off like a week too late.
“I think everyone on our team really needs that extra day of rest. If any team in the country needs an extra day to get healthy, it’s us because of how thin we are. We have a lot of young guys who aren’t really used to putting this much strain on their bodies. They definitely weren’t doing as much work as they are now when they were in high school.”
The same is true for Simms in junior college at this time a year ago, and the shots he’s taking at a higher level with the Vols (2-2, 0-1 SEC) no doubt carry more weight.
The 14 sacks and countless other hits he’s already endured haven’t kept him down for any significant amount of time, and even at the end of a grueling double-overtime win over UAB, Simms was still strong enough to hang in the pocket and deliver a game-winning bullet for a touchdown to Denarius Moore.
Eventually all those trips to the turf figure to take a toll on him though. But a day off from practice and a no-contact jersey during the week can help limit the damage, as does an apparent black-belt in the art of taking a sack.
“Well, they’re bigger at this level, so definitely the hits are a little bit harder,” Simms said. “It’s tough at times, but that’s what comes with playing quarterback. You’ve got to take the hits and actually know how to take a hit properly. I know it sounds weird, but I think I’ve kind of mastered how to take a sack and just protect my body and protect the football, as crazy as that sounds.
“Really, most people would think you kind of tense up or ball up in a muscle, but you just kind of relax and let your body go, to be honest. Don’t try to brace yourself by putting your hand out or bracing the fall. It’s kind of one of those things, you just have to go with it because you know what’s going to happen and you can’t really fight against it.”
A young offensive line is doing all it can to fight back, but through four games the Vols have allowed more sacks than all but three teams in the entire country. UT gave up six of them against a fast, physical Florida team, and it followed that up with five against UAB — and the Tigers appear better suited to bring pressure than either of those teams.
That puts pressure on a unit that again will play three true freshmen at times up front, as well as running backs to pick up blitzes and wide receivers to run proper routes. But even if something goes wrong, UT coach Derek Dooley at least knows by now that he’s got a quarterback who will get back up when he’s knocked around.
“And we don’t hit him in practice, but he has taken a lot of hits,” Dooley said. “I think we’re (close to) leading the country in sacks, and that doesn’t count the ones that he threw away and got shell-shocked on. So we’ve got to do a better job of protecting him, because he won’t make it.
“He’s tough, I’ll give him credit, and not many quarterbacks take a lot of hits and don’t get affected. He hasn’t been.”