Injured UT quarterback Bray hoping to play against Vanderbilt

Injured UT quarterback Bray hoping to play against Vanderbilt

November 17th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray.

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - There's the black and orange glove and the shiny new offensive formation.

Tennessee has yet to publicly make the decision on Tyler Bray's status for Saturday night's home game against Vanderbilt, but the Volunteers appear to be looking for ways to enable the sophomore quarterback to start or play with a broken thumb that's not fully healed.

"I think he's got a lot of rust on him," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after Wednesday morning's practice. "As you watch a kid who hasn't thrown a football for four or five weeks, which you would expect, there's times he looks OK, there's times he looks really rusty and you worry about those things. I don't know what the rest of the week's going to add up to right now.

"He's in and out. He looks good, sometimes he doesn't look so good. It's an iffy situation for us as we approach every day right now."

Bray, who spoke with the media for the first time since his injury early last month against Georgia, admitted he's not the same quarterback he was pre-injury. There's little doubt, though, as to what he wants to do.

"I've been wanting to play since Arkansas," said the sophomore. "I'm always going to want to play. I don't like watching the game, I didn't pay for a ticket. But, I mean, it's up to coaches, whatever they decide.

"It's up to Coach [Derek] Dooley. If he feels I can make the throws, then I'll play."

Bray's far from the only person hoping he'll play on Saturday.

"We hope he plays," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said Wednesday. "We look forward to the challenge. Our kids are excited about it."

If Bray can't go, it'll be freshman Justin Worley who retakes the reins of an offense that's scored just 23 points in the four Southeastern Conference games Bray missed. Dooley said Bray "was about the same" during Tuesday's practice. The uncertainty, the coach added, could mean a decision might not come until right before the game Saturday.

"We're struggling," Chaney said. "We have a bunch of young men that are looking for someone to make a play as opposed to going out and making that play. I feel the pressure, also, of trying to make the perfect play call to be able to score points.

"A young man's been out there and played and had a lot of success, I think that does a lot for a football team, if that ends up going that way and [Bray's] able to play. I think you always want a little burst, and if Tyler played, he'd give you that bump of energy that you need."

If Bray does play, the Vols are taking some steps to increase his effectiveness. Dooley said the Vols limited Bray's reps early in Wednesday's practice to lessen the wear on his arm. Bray is wearing a glove on his throwing hand to help with his grip.

Those adjustments pale in comparison to the addition of a new "pistol" formation on offense. Bray's most visible pain during practice has come when he's tried to take a snap from under center, so the Vols put him a couple steps behind center and a step in front of where he'd stand in the shotgun. The tailback still lines up behind the quarterback with a fullback to the quarterback's right or left.

It's how the Vols believe they can make it easier for their injured quarterback without making too many drastic changes.

"You've got to work on the ball-handling," Dooley said. "That's different, but with our running game, when you get in the pistol, there's a pistol offense and then there's getting into a pistol formation. Alabama runs the pistol formation, but it's really a traditional pro-style offense. Nevada runs the pistol offense, which is veer option and all the other stuff."

Bray said he's familiar with the formation because he ran it in high school, but Chaney described his background with it as limited.

"That's what you do, you find a way," he said. "As coaches, you find a way. If Tyler has to play in the ballgame, then we have to do some of that stuff, and that's just the reality of what we're dealing with."

Whether he returns Saturday night or not, Bray said his absence has involved plenty of studying and provided a learning experience he thinks will make him a better quarterback in the future.

"You realize how much football really means to you," he said. "You kind of take it for granted when you have to come out and practice every day, but once you get hurt and it gets taken away from you, you kind of see things differently."