HOOVER, Ala. - The two words have been a favorite of Derek Dooley's since the middle of April.
On seemingly every instance the University of Tennessee's second-year football coach has spoken publicly about Tyler Bray, Dooley has used the phrase "infant stages" to describe his sophomore quarterback.
While Bray sparked the Volunteers' offense with his play as a true freshman at the end of last season, his development will advance to the next stage simply with more time.
"It's going to be just playing," Dooley said Thursday morning at Southeastern Conference media days. "As much as we practice, quarterbacks don't get better until they play. It's just going to be each week hoping he can be on a path of progress. That's my hope. We hope he doesn't hit a time where he's not improving each week.
"He's going to have some bad throws and he's going to have some bad games, every quarterback does. But I hope his body of work over the course of the season shows a tremendous amount of improvement."
Bray has shown improvement since the spring, according to Dooley and senior tailback Tauren Poole. Dooley called the 6-foot-6 Bray's investment in his own improvement "phenomenal" last month, and Poole said the soft-spoken quarterback's leadership efforts have increased.
"He's taken control now," Poole said. "The way he commands the huddle, it's like, 'Whoa, where does that come from? 'He wants to be a leader, and we're going to need him to step up more if we're going to win some ball games this year.
"He definitely has the confidence, and I love to see Tyler and the type of leader he's becoming. He's definitely got some strides to take like all we do, but he's definitely taken strides."
Dooley said the stage of Bray's improvement might look drastically different.
"A lot of things might be things that you guys don't notice," Dooley said. "It's putting us in a good position [and] getting us in a good play that you don't even realize he's done. It's making a good decision to throw the ball away and not get sacked.
"It's all those little things that really make the difference of winning and losing. What we also hope doesn't go away is his ability to push the ball down the field and make explosive plays because that was his strength.
No Lathers 'any time soon'
Dooley didn't sound optimistic when he was asked about a timetable for linebacker Herman Lathers' return from a fractured ankle suffered in early June.
"That was a real blow," Dooley said. "I don't know when he's going to be back. I can tell you this, it's not any time soon. It's important we get Herman back as soon as we can."
Smith out of boot
Malik Jackson isn't pursuing his degree in pre-medicine, but UT's senior defensive lineman said sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith was no longer wearing a protective boot.
The Ooltewah native broke a bone in his right foot during the last week of spring practice and underwent a precautionary procedure to correct a minor stress fracture in his left foot in late May.
"He's just a monster and he wants to get back on the field so bad," said Jackson, who's majoring in sociology. "You can see it in his eyes when we're out there working. I feel like when he comes to camp he's going to be even than he was before he got hurt."
Vols add two more
The Vols' recruiting momentum that begin Monday continued on Thursday, when two of UT's more important defensive targets publicly committed.
Otha Peters, a 6-foot-1, 221-pound linebacker from Covington, La., and LaTroy Lewis, a 6-4, 230-pound defensive end from Akron, Ohio, became the Vols' fifth and sixth verbal pledges of the week.
Both players are three-star prospects, though Lewis had offers from Michigan and Ohio State and Peters had offers from Nebraska, Texas A&M and three SEC schools.