Vols boosted to see Bray back at practice

Vols boosted to see Bray back at practice

November 16th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray takes the ball against Buffalo in October.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray takes the ball against...

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Alex Bullard was on one side of Tennessee's practice field focusing on his craft Tuesday morning, but the Volunteers center admitted he was tempted to look across the field.

Receiver Zach Rogers got a little closer view.

There, for the first time in five weeks since breaking the thumb on his right hand, was quarterback Tyler Bray in his usual green No. 8 practice jersey, taking snaps, throwing the football, working on handoffs and going through the usual practice routine.

"He was a lot better than I thought he'd be," Rogers said. "It's great to have him back out here, and it's great just to have him back there."

Added Bullard: "He looked pretty good, confident, out there, competing like he normally does."

If Bray does indeed start for UT against Vanderbilt on Saturday night, however, don't expect the same sophomore who threw 14 touchdown passes in the season's first five games. That was the warning from coach Derek Dooley, who grew more animated and amused as he tried to find different ways to give the same answer to all the questions he got about his No. 1 quarterback.

"He's not even close to what he was before he got injured -- not even close," Dooley said. "He's got a broken thumb, so you can't grip the ball and throw it the way you do when you don't have a broken thumb. It's going to take some time, guys. It's like everything around here: We want immediate fixes, and his thumb is not fixed.

"You don't just put magic serum on it and he can go throw like he did five weeks ago. It will come. I don't know if it'll be this week."

Dooley continued to use the "questionable" label he introduced Monday at his weekly news conference about Bray's status. His passes during the open part of practice didn't have his usual zip and spin, but he was still fairly accurate on some of his throws. Dooley said the emphasis is more what he can do and not the amount of pain he feels.

Bray struggled with some under-center snaps, so the Vols spent most of their time either in the shotgun or the pistol formation. He did not take all the first-team reps, as the Vols continue to prepare freshman Justin Worley and senior Matt Simms in case Bray can't go.

"I think it was what expected," Dooley said. "He was actually a little better but still not even close. You can't be in a cast for over a month and then come out of the cast and just say, 'I'm good.' We live in la-la land, he lives in la-la land -- I'm the only guy that has any sense of reality in this whole organization.

"Y'all keep asking me 100 questions about it hoping I'm going to say, 'Oh, by the way, he's great, he was perfect today.' He's not; he's got a broken thumb. It's like I'm hiding something."

It was difficult to hide his presence back on the practice field for the Vols, though.

"As far as we know," Rogers said of the expectation for Bray to start. "We're behind anybody who's back there. They haven't really told us yet, but we're working with all of them. We'll be ready to roll with any of them."

Jackson progressing

Freshman Marcus Jackson played "a lot better" in his third start at left guard against Arkansas last week, Dooley said. The 6-foot-2, 326-pounder supplanted James Stone at the position.

He arrived on campus in January as one of UT's strongest offensive linemen.

"It was mostly a surprise because when you come from high school, you hear about strong people in college," Jackson said in his first interview with the Vols. "You've still got to continue to grow when come in here. As strong as I was, strength is just one part of the game."

That's the main thing Jackson said he's learned his first year, that one slightly wrong step or a slightly lower pad level can make a big difference.

"[He] showed some signs that get you encouraged, then makes some bad mistakes," Dooley said. "We keep working through it."

Vols' best friend?

After referencing an orange dog as an inanimate object for motivation, Dooley brought an actual dog statue spray-painted in orange to accompany the Vols for Tuesday morning's practice. Dooley joked that head equipment manager Roger Frazier found it in Sweden.

"It's just a reminder," he said. "When you get something in your mind that is negative or you get down on yourself, it's just a reminder: Snap out of it; we've got it made over here."

Apparently the dog was heavy because it required a dolly to move it.

"I liked it out here," Rogers said. "Feeding the orange dog. It's got its own cart. It's kind of living large out here. I just saw it in the equipment room this morning. Coach Dooley was at it again."

Foiled fake

Kicker Michael Palardy said Arkansas was ready for the fake field goal Dooley called for in UT's opening drive last week. The sophomore took a flip from holder Matt Darr, rolled left and threw incomplete to Channing Fugate.

"They said, 'Watch the fake!'" Palardy said. "I was kind of out of luck there. Fugate was supposed to run a corner, and he didn't make his break by the time I was ready to throw the ball because the guys were closing in pretty fast. I had to get rid of it, hoping that he would turn his head quickly and make a quick reaction.

"We work on it a lot. They knew it was coming. They covered it pretty well."

The Vols were kicking into a stiff wind into the same end where the Razorbacks missed a field goal in the second quarter. Palardy said Dooley asked him what he wanted to do before deciding to call for the fake.

"I said, 'Coach, I'm fine with both. I'll do both,'" Palardy said. "I could have kicked it with no problem. The wind was stiff, but I wasn't thinking about it."

Status updates

Freshman linebacker Curt Maggitt said after practice that he's feeling much better after missing the South Carolina loss with a calf injury and admitted that while he didn't like sitting out, he got a "better view" of things while he wasn't playing. ... Freshman tailback Marlin Lane was in a noncontact jersey and did very little Tuesday morning. ... Receiver Da'Rick Rogers wore a brace on his left knee and didn't appear 100 percent.