Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray passes against Vanderbilt in Nashville last fall. Tennessee won 24-10. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
There haven't been many disaster days in the University of Tennessee football team's preseason camp.
The Volunteers and sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray had one offensively on Thursday, however, that Derek Dooley admitted was rough on him and his coaching staff.
"We all felt like Tyler wasn't performing well and he was pressing a little bit," the Vols' second-year coach said after Saturday afternoon's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium, "and I think that's a good thing. It means he cares. If he didn't press, it means he doesn't care."
Bray cared enough to go meet with UT's offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
"We just kind of talked about what we need to do Saturday and just try to relax and just go back to the way we were playing last year," Bray said after completing 10 of 20 passes for 144 yards with a five-yard scoring pass to freshman Vincent Dallas.
"We walked around the practice field for a while, just coach-player stuff. I've got all the trust in the world [in the offense], but I was just trying to over think everything and rush through it."
The dialogue between the sophomore and his coach and offensive coordinator isn't a new development, but the most recent discussion seems to have produced results.
"I think the last two days he's been really good," Dooley said. "If he didn't press, that would probably concern me a little bit more. I don't think there's a quarterback out there who doesn't go through phases of having some bad play and you're feeling bad, feeling like you're letting the team down.
"He's been approachable. He's had two really good days, positive days. That's a good sign."
Typically the third scrimmage of camp is purely situational work, but the Vols incorporated some normal scrimmaging on Saturday. The first-team offense had a 11-play drive that ended in Michael Palardy's 37-yard field goal and followed that score up with a 16-play drive ending in Bray's scoring pass.
After simplifying the offense by eliminating shifts and motions in last Saturday's scrimmage, Bray said he handled a full load on Saturday. He said an elevated expectation forced him to try to do things he normally wouldn't do.
That's the same situation the rest of the Vols' important sophomore class is facing this season.
"With a lot of these young guys, I made the comment that last year when they went in, they really didn't have any pressure," Dooley said. "We were a bad football team [at] 2-6, so if they went out and stunk it up, nobody really would have cared. They could be loose, and they played well.
"Now they don't have the luxury of having old guys in front of them. They don't have the luxury of saying, 'We're going to save the day.' It's their team. The more you realize that, the more you realize how big Tennessee football is, you starting getting the exposure, you start getting on the cover of these magazines [and] it's normal to start feeling a little pressure."
The Vols' young offense, which is starting eight sophomores, struggled with that pressure on Thursday, when it would allow one negative play to turn into two or more. The majority of the responsibility to play through those bad stretches and meet the expectations that are higher across the board fall on Bray's shoulders.
"There's a lot of expectations on the quarterback position," Bray said, "but you've just got to trust in everyone else that they do their job and they have been. I've improved a ton since last scrimmage. I just felt as a total offense we were relaxed [today]. There wasn't anybody yelling at each other or [getting] frustrated, everyone was just relaxed and ready to play."
It's that kind of relaxed play that UT's offense will need to handle the higher expectations and avoid disasters when the real games begin.
"That's why everybody talks about sophomores and say, 'Well, what happened.' It's a different ball game when you start feeling that it's your team," Dooley said. "There's pressure and they have to learn how to manage it. You want them to really appreciate the magnitude of it. I don't think they should never not appreciate that. Then once they do, you have to tell them, 'It really doesn't matter, just go play.'
"I think we'll be there. THese guys have a good confidence about them. I'm glad they felt that a little bit in camp. Hopefully by the time we start playing they'll loosen it up a little bit."
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 ...
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