April 6, 2012

Bray helps offense put best foot forward

Having embraced his team's pledge to improve its ground attack during this spring camp, quarterback Tyler Bray put his best foot forward Friday in Tennessee's first scrimmage.

And then? Well, Bray kept on running.

The unofficial stats supplied by UT will show Bray scampered nine yards. The quarterback isn't quite sure how many yards he left uncovered on the play.

"I've started looking at it as a coaching standpoint, where last year I was just a player and wanted to get out of here." - Tyler Bray

"I had a run out there. Could have scored on it," Bray said. "Oh yeah [showed some wheels]. I would've put a spin move or something on. It wasn't a deke; I just dropped back, looked and no one was open so I took off. I did the old little standing up, 'Oh, I slid.' and just dropped the ball."

Tennessee a year ago dropped the ball on offense with an anemic ground game, and Bray has candidly acknowledged this spring his shortcomings a year ago with his approach. Now with 16 games' experience and entering his third season, Bray has begun to embrace an improved running game and his own willingness to find secondary targets as keys in the offense's evolution.

"The running game. And the running game checkdowns," Bray said of Friday's signs of encouragement. "I hit Devrin (Young) on a little 2-yard checkdown that turned into a 30-yard play. Any time we can run the ball great and then check it down to our running backs and them make plays, that's always good.

"Last year, it was more 'OK, down the field, let's throw it to the receivers.' This year it's 'OK, one (target), two (target), checkdown.'"

The Vols' top three running backs --- Rajion Neal, Devrin Young and Marlin Lane combined for 168 rushing yards on 30 carries, with Neal accounting for 100 on 15 tries. Bray completed 13 of 32 tosses for 142 yards with a touchdown to Mychal Rivera and an interception by Brian Randolph.

But Bray, as well as backups Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, were praised for the manner in which they managed the offense.

"He did," Dooley said of Bray effectively checking down and commanding the offense. "(The) quarterbacks are getting a lot better at that, and it created some explosive plays. Those were some of our best pass plays.

"(Bray) is showing a lot of growth in some areas, but we didn't have those big, down-the-field plays that we are used to having. A lot of it is our receiving corps isn't right there yet, but he's managing the offense better than he ever has, he's hitting the checkdowns better than he ever has, and I think he's learning how to be a complete quarterback, so he's on track."

Not that Bray didn't at times still confront the urge to launch the ball downfield from his high-powered arm.

"It's tough at times when you just want to sit back there and kind of move around and then finally just sling it," Bray explained, "to where you just (do) more progression read and one or two reads are not open, hit the checkdown."

Bray's actions, not to mention those of other players, on Friday further reaffirmed to Dooley that his team is showing a more resolved, veteran approach.

"Very much [encouraged]. And you know, the maturity level of these guys is so much better," Dooley said. "They're not, I mean, Tyler's not in the tank because his stats aren't great. Da'Rick (Rogers) is not in the tank because he didn't catch a ball today.

"They're working on their game and improving for the team, and that's a real sign of maturity. Now, in the game, probably won't be like that, but you've got to start in practice."

To that end, Bray has even started to sound like a coach in appraising his scrimmage work.

"I've started looking at it as a coaching standpoint, where last year I was just a player and wanted to get out of here. I was tired and all that," Bray said. "But now, I've realized that we actually do need to work on stuff and the areas that need improving on."


Dooley took encouragement from the efforts of Bray's understudies as well. The sophomore Worley completed 11 of his 20 tosses for 110 yards while the midterm enrollee and true freshman Peterman hit on four of his eight tosses for 13 yards.

"They did some decent things," Dooley said. "Worley's had a really good spring. Same thing, they're doing a good job of moving and hitting the checkdowns and finding the open guy. Nate's young, but he's got some good promise. We've got a good group of quarterbacks, we really do."

Peterman continues a trend of midterm enrollees at the quarterback position for the Vols; all three arrived in Knoxville in January of their freshman years, as did the graduated Matt Simms.

Bray remembers needing early help and is trying to provide the same aid to Peterman.

"I get along with all the quarterbacks. I just try to help (Peterman)," Bray said. "I know I got help when I was an early enrollee, so I just try to do the same."

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