KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray isn't as soft-spoken as the 6-foot-6 freshman from Kingsburg, Calif., appears to the media.
"He's not shy," coach Derek Dooley said. "He's got a quiet swagger about him. I've seen his personality, but it is just different. I don't know how to explain it.
"We can't forget he is a freshman. ... Of course, we can't deny the California effect. He's not from Tennessee and there's a lot of different personalities in California."
Bray threw for 1,537 yards in the 2010 regular season, a UT freshman record. That surpassed the 1,473 yards in 2000 for Casey Clausen, another California native.
"It's not bad," Dooley said of the California attitude. "Things don't go well, you go surf a little bit, check out the waves, pop in 'Fast Times of Ridgemont High' — everything's OK."
The laid-back Bray took command of the huddle once becoming the starter and helped the Vols sweep through their November schedule to become bowl-eligible.
"I think he instills confidence in the other players," Dooley said. "I always say one of the most important qualities a quarterback can have is when he steps in the huddle, the other 10 guys believe in him: 'That's our guy. We can score points with him, and win games.' He does command that. Now, you have to produce on the field — that's a real key to it. As long as you keep producing, it becomes contagious."
Sophomore left tackle Dallas Thomas noticed the difference almost immediately after Bray was given the starting job.
"When he stepped in and took over," Thomas said. "I saw how he stepped up and just ran with it. I was like, 'OK, we've got somebody on our hands that's really going to help us get the job done and is going to keep it moving and all that.'"
Vols backup middle linebacker John Propst was recently named to the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman Team, and Dooley had a little bit of fun telling Propst the news.
"I congratulated him on his award," Dooley said. "I told him I did some research and I told him he's the only freshman Mike linebacker that played on any team this year, and so he won by default. Then I smiled.
"He was crushed when I told him, and then I said, 'I'm just kidding. Congratulations.'"
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Propst has appeared in 10 games and recorded 14 tackles, including a career-high six against Georgia. A coach's son, he plays the position that is responsible for aligning the defense each play.
"He's a very intelligent football player," Dooley said. "That's probably the best quality — football intelligence. He's instinctive. Those kinds of guys get better and better and play to their capacity. He's going to be a good, solid player for us. ... That's what he played like, a coach's son. We're proud of him."
The three early enrollees participating with the Vols during bowl practice — tight end Brendan Downs, center Mack Crowder and wide receiver Vincent Dallas — made good first impressions on teammates and coaches.
"They did a real good job," Dooley said. "Better than I anticipated. All three of them, I'm glad we have them. Vincent has excellent ball skills and very good twitch in changing direction. Brendan Downs looked really good. He stuck his face in there and caught some passes. And old Mack is going to be a good, solid offensive lineman for us."
Dooley likened having an early look at the trio to his three children getting anxious looking at their Christmas gifts before Dec. 25.
"There's a present under the tree," Dooley said. "They walk by it every day. But you don't know what's in it, and it's eating you alive. It's like all these commitments we've got — I like it, that present looks good, and then you know how you just tear that paper just a little bit? That's what we did. We ripped that paper open and got a peek at it. Looks like Mama took care of us."
Contact Matt Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.