Simms, Stephens on equal ground in Vols’ quarterback race

The Tennessee Vols are in their third week of spring practice in Knoxville, and while they may not have a starting quarterback quite yet, it seems as if the competition is narrowing down to two main combatants.

New head coach Derek Dooley may not have to worry so much about the graduation of Jonathan Crompton if Nick Stephens and junior-college transfer Matt Simms continue their development throughout the offseason. Both Stephens and Simms, the son of former New York Giants star Phil Simms, have been receiving first-team reps while 6-6, 192-pound freshman Tyler Bray has played mostly with the second-stringers.

As the Orange and White Game approaches on April 17 at Neyland Stadium, might Dooley have tipped his hand on who currently has the edge?

“Matt's showing a lot of progress and he's got good competitive spirit. I think he's got good command,” Dooley told “He'll continue to have more and more command as he learns the terminology, the plays and the reads. But he's very confident in his abilities, which is important at quarterback, and I think he has a bright future.”

Good decision-making, composure and accuracy are the main traits Dooley and the offensive staff are looking for in their starting signal-caller. Those are the ingredients Stephens believes he possesses as he enters his senior season.

After splitting time with Crompton and starting six games in 2008, Stephens lost out on the starting job last fall and was relegated to three games of mop-up duty. He completed nine of 13 passes for 142 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

While it’s likely that a decision from Dooley won’t come until fall practice, getting any kind of advantage in spring drills may go a long way in grabbing an extra few reps with first-teamers in August.

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