KNOXVILLE — Tyler Bray is about to see the best defense he's seen in his brief career as Tennessee's starting quarterback.
It looks like he'll have his usual protection for what he can't see, though.
Junior left tackle Dallas Thomas, who sprained his right knee in extra-point protection during the third quarter of the Volunteers' win against Cincinnati, probably will play Saturday against 16th-ranked Florida in Gainesville. He is the oldest starter in the UT offensive line.
"We expect him to play," coach Derek Dooley said after Tuesday morning's practice. "We're on pace."
That pace had Thomas limited during Tuesday's workout.
"I feel really good, just trying to get my mobility back," Thomas said. "My knee's feeling really good. They wanted me to rest up and get ready for tomorrow."
Thomas said he heard a pop when he was hurt, but he walked off the field under his own power and an MRI on Sunday revealed no severe damage. He certainly is determined to play Saturday afternoon and protect Bray's blind side.
"I've got to get in this game," he said. "It's just a big game. Not saying any other game is small, [but] it's Florida. Everybody wants to play against Florida."
Block party welcome
Florida coach Will Muschamp called four-man pressure "the best pass defense in America" during his weekly news conference Monday, and the Gators could sell out to pressure and disrupt UT's clicking aerial attack. With the likes of Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Jaye Howard, Florida has the talent to do it.
"I don't know if our five can block their four," Dooley said. "If our five can't block their four ... we're going to get whipped. We're going to have to block these guys.
"It doesn't matter how open you are: If you can't deliver the ball to them, it doesn't matter. That's going to be our biggest challenge, because this is as athletic and big a defensive front as you'll see in college football. They're good and they just roll right through the offensive line."
Bray's most significant action in road games last year was at South Carolina in relief and starts at Memphis and Vanderbilt, so Saturday's game in Gainesville will be the most hostile environment he's faced.
"I can't wait," the even-keeled California native said of playing in the vaunted Swamp. "It's going to be fun. I really don't focus on what the crowd's doing. They're not out there playing."
Devrin Young is close to a full return from a broken collarbone, and the freshman tailback and return specialist returned to contact Tuesday. He played running back for UT's scout team and got "body-slammed," as Dooley put it, by freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson.
Whether Young will return a kick against the Gators is uncertain, but Dooley clearly is considering it.
"I told him I would probably be called the dumbest coach in college football if I put him back there in the Swamp," he quipped. "[But] I'm thinking about it, yeah. It isn't the first dumb thing I've done, so I'm not scared. I don't have to catch it.
"I know he can catch punts, I know he's quick and elusive, he's been hit, but nothing will ease my mind until he goes out and catches one. I don't know what I'm going to do."
UT will host Georgia State on Sept. 8, 2012, and pay the Football Championship Subdivision program $500,000 for the game, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ... Starting defensive end Ben Martin (sprained ankle) worked on the side at Tuesday's practice. ... Starting safety Prentiss Waggner wore a noncontact jersey Tuesday after falling on his shoulder during practice Sunday, but the junior said it was simply precautionary. ... Waggner called Florida's speedy tailback duo of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps "a big play waiting to happen."
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 ...