Tyler Bray remembers the last pass he threw in a real game very well.
“I can pretty much tell you the whole play,” the University of Tennessee quarterback said of his game-sealing interception against North Carolina in the Music City Bowl last December.
“It’s play-action pass. I have [fullback Channing] Fugate out in the flat. [Receivers] Gerald [Jones] and [Denarius Moore] are coming on the backside. And I threw it right to No. 52.
“I try to forget and move on, but that game and that play is hard to forget.”
As hard as that particular play was for Bray to forget, it’s probably harder for anybody to forget what he did in getting the Vols to that game. As a freshman, Bray entered UT’s game at South Carolina in the third quarter last October and promptly tossed a pass right to Devin Taylor for the easiest touchdown of the Gamecocks defensive end’s career.
Bray bounced back with two scoring throws to keep the Vols in the South Carolina game, and he flourished from there, feasting on the easier part of the Vols’ schedule by throwing 16 touchdown passes in five games.
His physical gifts are obvious, but the story with Bray over the course of spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp in August has always been about the mental part of his game. Improving his consistency, maturity and leadership skills and investment to reaching his potential are atop his to-do list.
“He’s asking a lot better questions,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “I think he’s had a good summer in throwing the football and trying to learn as a quarterback.” “You earn the respect to be a leader, to me, based on your level of commitment to the program,” coach Derek Dooley said. “People have a hard time respecting somebody if they don’t see them committed to doing everything they can to help us win. I think he’s proving that to our team. It’s a work in progress.”
That progress hit a snag in the Vols’ first August scrimmage, when Bray struggled with the tempo and command of the offense. He bounced back with a better second scrimmage, but his completion rate (45 percent) in UT’s two evaluation scrimmages was troubling.
UT’s coaches have put a lot on Bray throughout the entire offseason, and Dooley has noted that the staff has to help Bray by not putting too much on the quarterback and negatively affecting his ability to make big plays. “We’re starting to get an understanding of when we’re pushing too much because we don’t want to get him uncomfortable,” Dooley said. “I wish Tyler would get a little more consistent in his approach. That comes with maturity.”
The consistency and maturity the Vols are hoping for from their quarterback can come only with time and experience. Bray won’t be a secret to opposing defensive coordinators anymore, and stout defenses at Florida, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas await.
First, however, Bray would probably just prefer to have a different last pass to remember.
“He knows where we have to be as an offense,” senior tailback Tauren Poole said. “He knows that we need him to be on top of his game to be a good offense. We’re definitely making strides, and him being a great leader like he is definitely has to come along. He’s only a sophomore [and] still a young one, but we need him to step up.”
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 ...