KNOXVILLE — The 5 a.m. wakeup call. The black suit and orange tie.
Questions good and bad from reporters familiar and strange.
For Tyler Bray the cool 20-year-old college kid from California, it was all outside the comfort zone.
For Tyler Bray the Tennessee quarterback, though, attending the circus that is the Southeastern Conference's annual media days was just part of the job.
"He needs to get into this role," Volunteers coach Derek Dooley told a group of Knoxville-area reporters Thursday morning at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
"He's our quarterback, and he's the face of our offense. He needs to understand what it's like to stand in front of all these cameras and be accountable to you guys just like he's accountable to the team. I think it's helped him."
Neither a big-time talker nor an early-morning riser, Bray probably wasn't thrilled at the idea of answering hundreds of questions, most of them repetitive, in more than a dozen rooms for a few morning hours. Yet the junior exuded confidence, spoke well and seemed genuinely happy to be there. Even in the large room of print reporters, his final stop of a long morning, Bray was engaging and showed the part of his personality that usually might not appear in such a setting.
When Bray, to his own surprise, was the first of UT's three players representatives coming into the room — tackle Ja'Wuan James and linebacker Herman Lathers entered later — he wondered aloud why he was alone.
"They wouldn't let them in, I guess," one columnist said.
"I wouldn't let Herman in, either," Bray joked.
He was unfazed by questions about Dooley's job security and recounted his experience with four other SEC quarterbacks at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana last week. When one camera-toting journalist posed an odd question about an incident at the 2010 Music City Bowl — which happened more than 18 months ago -- Bray simply recalled the play in which he threw his overtime interception. He proclaimed his receiving corps as tops in the country and said his confidence was at an all-time high.
Consistency and his ongoing maturation process have long been the topic du jour in discussing Bray. Less than a minute into his first interview of the morning, he was asked about it again. Later, he described what he thought a mature quarterback looked like.
"A guy that the players give their lives for, that they're going out there and giving 100 percent every day for and just can lead his team," he replied.
"It's hard work," he continued. "It's nothing something that comes easy to a lot of guys. Some it does; some it doesn't. For me it doesn't, so I've got to go out there and work the little extra things to try to help me out."
Dooley noted Bray's visit to NFL stars Peyton and Eli Manning's camp as a chance to see "what it means to be a quarterback." Though not the only Vol to do so, Bray was active in the community earlier this offseason, when he visited kids at local elementary schools on a couple of occasions. After UT's final spring practice at Neyland Stadium in April, Bray and offensive tackle Antonio Richardson stuck around with one young fan for nearly 30 minutes, talking video games and wrestling.
There was extra effort on the field, too.
"I think I've worked a little harder [this offseason]," Bray said. "The last two years have been, I don't want to say a letdown, but it wasn't what I expected. This year I went out and tried to work a little harder, get the guys out there, try to get them to work a little harder and get this team back on track.
"It's not necessarily me working harder. I'm not going to go out there and win every game. I need the other guys to back me up and play hard as well."
Dooley said he thinks Bray's teammates believe in him. Some NFL draft prognosticators do, and in addition to four preseason watch lists for national awards, Bray's name has popped up on some too-early mock drafts for next April. The SEC's coaches and media, though, put Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's AJ McCarron on the three preseason all-conference lists.
Bray has shown he's talented and demonstrated his potential, but he's yet to make it through an entire season or face a top-level defense with a full arsenal at his disposal.
"I've seen a lot of growth in Tyler," Dooley said. "[I'm] proud of him. But he's still got a lot of work to do.
"He certainly looks different. He looks a little bigger, looks a little more confident and feeling good, and I think the confidence is not ... the youthful cockiness. There's a big difference in being young and cocky and then, 'OK, I've been through things and I've been knocked on my tail, but now I'm ready to go,' and I think that's a big hurdle."
The quarterback was polished Thursday, both in how he answered questions and in the combination of his black suit, black shirt and bright orange tie. He was clean-shaven and sported the haircut he had done Wednesday night. Bray appears to have added pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame.
The morning certainly took its toll on him and his two teammates. After presenting a six-figure donation check to local children's charities with a local fundraising organization and wife Allison on Friday, Dooley said Bray was "knocked out" on both plane rides to and from Hoover. There was a team workout waiting for Bray, James and Lathers upon their return to Knoxville.
Bray was back in his expanding comfort zone, and now it's about getting the Vols back to theirs.
"We haven't had the season Tennessee's had in the past," he said, "but we're going to try to change that."
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 ...