Tyler Bray experiencing growing pains as Vols QB
Tennessee coaches are trying to improve quarterback Tyler Bray's knowledge of the game and mastery of the playbook during spring practice.
That process hasn't been without a few growing pains.
''There's a lot going through his mind - more going through his mind than ever went through last season,'' Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said. ''When that happens, sometimes the simple throws become difficult.''
The Kingsburg, Calif., native went 4-1 after taking over the starter role in 2010 and completed 125 of 224 for 1,849 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, earning him three Southeastern Conference freshman of the week awards.
His success was mostly due to the 6-foot-6 Bray's ability to see the field, find the open player and make an accurate throw - whether or not it was the throw his coaches wanted him to make.
Bray enrolled at Tennessee in January 2010 and spent his first spring practice just getting used to practicing with a college team. For his second spring practice, the coaches want him to fully understand all the offensive plays and the defensive looks he'll face on the field.
''He plays on instincts well,'' offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. ''He knows where the opens are, and he throws the ball to them. And we're trying to get him to understand the game a lot better. That just comes with time, and you can't manufacture that, and I think he's trying to do a lot - if we can just get him to calm down. He just needs to continue to be Tyler Bray.''
The Tyler Bray Chaney refers to is one that is especially cool under pressure, one that never gets rattled while under pressure in the pocket.
But at the Vols' first spring scrimmage on April 2, the quarterback and passing game that had been so collected just five months before looked more like a mess, earning the description of ''terrible'' from Dooley. Bray completed 11 of 27 for 172 yards and three touchdowns but also threw a pair of interceptions and missed several wide-open shots.
''I was not totally thinking it was terrible, but it was pretty bad,'' Bray said. ''A couple reads that I threw, I probably shouldn't have thrown them and gone to the other side. We're still learning right now, still getting the offense right now.''
But despite his game not being quite as crisp as he or the coaches would like right now, Bray still isn't getting rattled too much.
''It's kind of all the same to me,'' he said. ''I just like to go out, and it's not backyard football, but still keep it in that same mindset of just having fun out there, trying to keep everyone calm instead of just all stressed out all the time.''
To his credit, Bray is still making some decent plays while working with a significantly different receiver corps than he grew accustomed to last year. Gone are trusty targets Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and Luke Stocker and in their places are his fellow rising freshmen Da'Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and Matt Milton, among others.
''I thought we'd just pick it up from last year and do the same thing even better, but I know it takes time for perfection,'' Hunter said. ''Tyler has to get used to us to know we're going to be with the ball. I think he's got to get used to me, Da'Rick and the other receivers.''
Dooley admits he has to temper his own expectations during spring practice because it's hard to expect growth when so much is being thrown at young players, and they're expected to perform without a definite opponent or game plan. Dooley said he'll be satisfied if each player can ''just get a little bit better at something every day.''
He also knows he can't get by with Bray's freelancing ways of last season, either.
''We've got a new tight end and we've got new receivers everywhere and we've got a quarterback who isn't exactly (Hall of Fame quarterback) Bart Starr right now,'' he said. ''I know we can't go compete against a good football team with about six pass plays. We're going to need more than a fade route, so we've got to get good at it.''