The quarterback situation: Simms takes over from Bray; Worley takes over from Simms
On a February afternoon, Matt Simms is decked out from head to toe in Tennessee workout gear.
The senior is softly tossing the ball up to himself outside the locker room, waiting for somebody to join him so he can get in some offseason throws.
As a teammate walks through the practice facility, Simms shouts over to ask why he didn't show up to a throwing session with him the previous weekend after being sent a text message about the details. He cracked a couple jokes about it, but the message from Simms was serious and hard to misinterpret.
The Vols already had a new starter under center at that point, but Simms wasn't simply going to concede a leadership role to Tyler Bray back then. And while it took a broken thumb to open up actual playing time again for Simms against No. 1 LSU on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium, in some ways he's never really stopped carrying himself like a first-team quarterback for the Vols.
"No doubt, it is tough to be that kind of a leader even though you're the second-team quarterback," Simms said. "But, to be honest with you, I didn't care because this is my senior year, this is (defensive lineman) Malik Jackson's senior year, and we understand that it doesn't really matter.
"We're all a part of the same team, and obviously it's kind of an awkward situation at times, but sometimes you have to put some of that stuff aside and realize that we're all here for the same purpose. It's tough, but we've just got to deal with it."
That's nothing new for Simms with UT (3-2, 0-2 SEC), where there hasn't been much that has come easily for him or the program over the last couple seasons.
Simms won the job outright after transferring from junior college a year ago and started eight games, including a brutal stretch of conference games almost exactly like the one the Vols are in the middle of now. He nearly pulled off an enormous upset on the road against the same Tigers (6-0, 3-0) he'll face in his return to the starting lineup, but ultimately as the losses piled up, Derek Dooley looked elsewhere for a spark in the passing game.
The Vols coach found it in Bray, and it quite obviously didn't sit well with Simms when the move was made. But since publicly lashing out after getting pulled in a loss at South Carolina, Simms privately went back to work in case a second chance ever arrived and gained respect in the locker room in the process.
"Matt understands the investment it takes to be a good quarterback, and Tyler was learning that," Dooley said. "So, even though Tyler was our starter, it wasn't going to change Matt's approach to being a good quarterback. Matt knew he was one snap away from being the guy, and when you're a two, you have to prepare like you're a starter. It was good, I mean, that's why we had Matt.
"Matt was mature enough to really see (the big picture). He had bounced around, but he's here, let's stick it out and see what happens."
What the Vols saw last week in a loss to Georgia was Bray's hand whack into a defender's helmet, a ball come out poorly on the next snap and an X-ray that revealed why with a broken bone.
They also watched Simms trot back out to the huddle in a pressure situation, complete a pair of critical fourth-down conversions and finish off the only touchdown drive of the game with a short sneak into the end zone.
Now it's up to him to lead the Vols there more often, and he's been working and waiting for that chance for a while.
"I think (the backup leading) did look unusual, but it was a reflection of Matt Simms and his character," Jackson said. "He knew that even though he wasn't the No. 1 quarterback, he still had to go out there and lead these guys. He knows he's a senior, and he knows there's nothing he can do about it except go out there to work every day and just work hard, bust his (tail) every day and get better.
"You might get your opportunity, and here it is."