Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray passes against Vanderbilt in Nashville last fall. Tennessee won 24-10. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s coaching staff is using spring practice to put more of the playbook and more offensive responsibilities on quarterback Tyler Bray, meaning more is going through the rising sophomore’s head.
Sometimes, there’s too much thinking.
“[He’s] trying to be a better football player, thinking about the little things that I’m on his butt about all the time as opposed to just playing,” Volunteers offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after Wednesday’s practice, the ninth of the spring. “There comes a time you’ve got to forget what I’ve told you and just go play, and I think he was trying to do too good sometimes. He’s doing fine now, he just needs to keep growing up as a player.”
UT head coach Derek Dooley said the Vols’ passing game was “terrible” in the spring’s first scrimmage last Saturday and added after Tuesday’s practice that Bray was making the easy plays difficult by thinking too much.
“I think he’s the kindest head coach I’ve ever worked for,” Chaney said of his boss’ scrimmage summary. “We weren’t very good; we really weren’t. We didn’t make many plays, we were poor in protection, we were poor in routes, we were poor in throwing and every part of the passing game didn’t look very good.”
The 6-foot-6, 195-pound Bray completed just 40 percent of this throws (11-of-27) for 172 yards with a trio of touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s admitted at a couple of different points this spring that he’s had some trouble digesting all that’s being put on him.
“When you’re learning the game and you start realizing why you do things and reacting to defenses, there’s a process,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. “We’ve got to speed the process up and continue to get good at it. I am proud of the quarterbacks right now. They are learning defenses and understanding defenses, and our defense is doing a great job of showing us a bunch of different looks [and] situations that we’re getting into that’s advanced ball.”
The physical tools — his arm strength, height and elusiveness within the pocket — have never been question marks for Bray. He demonstrated that much in sparking a stagnant offense late last season. The numbers — 100-of-177 passing for 1,546 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven picks — in Bray’s five starts were certainly impressive, regardless of the opponents.
But now it’s more a matter of taking on a bigger chunk of the offense, learning the intricacies of reading defenses and perfecting and mastering his control. The growing pains Bray’s fighting through this spring are expected for any young player.
“The mistakes usually come off the field with preparation as opposed to on the practice field. They’ll give you everything they want out here, but how well they prepare before they get here is always the issue with youth,” Chaney said. “He needs to continue to be Tyler Bray. I was afraid I was a little bit on him too much, so calm him down a little bit and we’ll be fine.”
Correspondent Matt Dixon contributed to this story.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...