Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press UT quarterback Tyler Bray watches drills before the game against Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium Saturday.
KNOXVILLE -- Tyler Bray is a laid-back kid. That's just the Californian's nature. He's always been like that, and he probably always will be to a certain extent.
But something suddenly changed sometime during Saturday's 52-14 blowout win over Ole Miss.
Sharply and suddenly, the University of Tennessee's tall, thin true freshman quarterback took control of his huddle.
"Guys were talking about another play, and he was like, 'Hey guys, just shut up and let's get to the next play,'" Volunteers junior tailback Tauren Poole said.
Did they quiet down?
"Oh, yeah," Poole said.
And the Vols continued to romp the Rebels.
To hear Poole tell it, the 6-foot-6, 18-year-old Bray is becoming a man.
"He's definitely way more commanding now," Poole said. "At first, he wouldn't say anything -- you know, he'd be quiet, let guys kind of do their thing. But now he's stepping up as a leader, and I love to see that in him, because the type of talent he brings to the table as a quarterback, he needs those communication skills to kind of delegate guys around. And he's definitely doing that, and it's great to see.
"He has a great future, he's doing great things right now and hopefully he can do more."
That's the plan, of course.
Bray, who has thrown 10 touchdown passes and just one interception in his first 10 quarters as UT's first-team quarterback -- and that pick came on his first pass -- has "sparked" the entire team, according to senior wide receiver Gerald Jones.
"I think that's pretty obvious," Jones said. "It's clear as day."
The baby-faced Bray is taking baby steps. His first start was his first win. His second start was his first Southeastern Conference win. He hopes his third start -- Saturday at in-state rival Vanderbilt -- will be his first SEC road win.
"When I first started, everything seemed like it was a million miles per hour," Bray said. "Now it's starting to come back to normal, and it's getting a lot easier."
For accuracy's sake, it should be noted that Bray hasn't faced college football's stiffest competition, even in the second half at SEC Eastern Division champion South Carolina. The Gamecocks are ranked 107th out of 120 FBS team in passing defense, while Memphis is 116th and Ole Miss is 95th.
But here's the good news for Bray: Vanderbilt is tied with Ole Miss for 95th nationally.
First-year Commodores head coach Robbie Caldwell has taken notice.
"Bray threw the ball all over the field last week and did a great job," Caldwell said. "I didn't know much about him previously because I didn't recruit him directly, but to see what he's done, stepping in and being cool and calm. He takes some hits and keeps coming, and I'm very impressed.
"He seems to be very tall and can see over the line. His vision impresses me."
Vandy doesn't directly apply much pressure to the quarterback. The Commodores generally prefer to sit back in deep zones and make offenses earn their way down the field, and they count on a major mistake along the way.
Bray said he'll have to be more patient Saturday. "Very patient," actually.
"We've got to hit the underneath routes, just check throws, just let them get them yards after catch," he said. "Their secondary stays pretty deep, [and] once you throw all underneath routes, they swarm to the ball really fast.
"They're great at that."
Bray said he feels fine when defenses attack or sit back.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "If they blitz, just check down or hot route them. If not, just wait, settle back in the pocket and wait for a guy to get open."
That hasn't necessarily been accurate sometimes, though. Bray trusts his arm and his receivers' talents to the point that he's made several risky throws.
Not that the wideouts mind.
"He has confidence is us to go make plays," true freshman receiver Justin Hunter said. "It's great when your quarterback trusts you like that."
It's not bad when he tells you to be quiet, either. Poole admitted to "kind of (having) of a smirk on my face" when Bray hushed the huddle.
"I'm like, 'Wow, that's a big step for you, actually saying something to somebody,'" Poole said. "But, you know, older guys ... like that, too, and they appreciate him kind of stepping up and being the quarterback that he can be."
This and that
UT redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Gordon, who has had two concussions recently and bumped his head Tuesday, didn't practice on Wednesday.
Junior cornerback Anthony Anderson, a former star at Knoxville's Austin-East High School who has played much better defensively the past few weeks, worked some with the punt return team on Wednesday.