KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (SUBMITTED) -- Tennessee returned to Haslam Field for business as usual Tuesday after having Monday off to rest and recover from a 50-14 victory at Memphis.
“It was a good, spirited practice,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “It’s always tough I think when you have a Monday off, for the offense especially. There are a lot of new things in and they don’t have that extra day to get ready so we need to clean up a lot of things heading into tomorrow.”
“It’s always the case when you get Monday off. That’s the downside of it but they’re better rested.”
One of the primary reasons for the Vols’ success on the road Saturday was the performance of freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, who started for the first time in his career. The Kingsburg, Calif., native earned SEC Freshman of the Week accolades after completing 19-of-33 for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Most of his production came in the first 30 minutes, setting UT records for passing yards (308) and touchdowns (five) in a single half.
According to Dooley, he’s right on track.
“He’s the same guy,” Dooley said. “He started changing about a month ago. That’s when he started playing a little better and that’s when we started playing him. He’s staying on course. He is who he is. He’s not going to be out there barking out 48 checks. That’s just not who he is but he’s doing well.”
While the play of the offensive line had a lot to do with preventing Memphis from registering a sack, Bray’s ability to sense the pass rush was also a big factor in keeping a UT quarterback from being taken down for the first time in 2010.
“I think he has more elusiveness in the pocket than you would think being a tall, lanky looking guy,” Dooley said. “That just comes from instinctively feeling where guys are and knowing it. I think it’s more instinct than anything. Some quarterbacks can maneuver through the pocket, elude arms and some struggle with it. He has shown the ability to do that.
“What you saw is instincts. It’s hard to put a better word on it. It’s pocket awareness. When things are moving he naturally moves away from it. He naturally steps up. You wonder how he sees that. Some quarterbacks just have that. It’s something you have to have back there or you’re going to take some hard shots.”
Bray’s height has helped him see the field better and served him well in his first start as he became the only quarterback in the SEC in 2010 to throw for five TDs in a game.
“It helps a lot. Stature is very important. He can see over and get rid of it quickly. You’re talking about a half-a-second so any way you’re half-a-step quicker in your decision and half-a-second quicker in your delivery, it’s a huge advantage. Height is an advantage at quarterback.”
FRESHMEN IMPROVING, CONTRIBUTING
Though one of the primary concerns surrounding Tennessee has been its lack of depth, the development and increased experience of the freshman Vols is beginning to pay dividends. UT has used 16 true freshmen on the field this season, third most in the country.
“The freshmen are playing faster, understanding the plays, being where they’re supposed to be and having more confidence,” Dooley said. “I think it’s just a time thing.”
While the Vols were prepared to use a lot of freshmen coming into the year, injuries forced that number to quickly increase. Tennessee has played 23 freshmen throughout the course of 2010.
“You can’t whine about injuries because you’re going to have them,” Dooley said. “Every team has them. Where it’s hard is where you don’t have a deep squad to be able to keep going. It’s hurt us most in the offensive line and it shows. We haven’t been able to get any continuity.”
A pair of highly touted freshmen receivers in Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers saw their playing time accelerate when senior wideout Gerald Jones suffered a hand injury in the season opener versus UT Martin. Although it may have come sooner than expected, it will benefit the Vols the rest of the way.
“It hurt us early in the year when Gerald (Jones) was out and the freshmen weren’t ready,” Dooley said. “Everybody was saying, ‘What’s wrong with third down?’ Well, the freshmen weren’t ready. I think since then, it’s been good.”
The Vols are 25-for-38 (43.1) on third downs over their last four games after converting just 19 percent through their first four outings.
TWO KEY VOLS TO RETURN SATURDAY
After missing the last five games due to injury, senior placekicker Daniel Lincoln returned to practice Tuesday and is expected to kick Saturday for the Vols when they host Mississippi. Lincoln started the year ablaze, connecting on all seven of his field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder against Florida, which tied a career best, and a 48-yard conversion versus Oregon.
“He hasn’t missed a field goal so I don’t really want to shelf him for getting hurt,” Dooley said. “As long as he looks good in practice and if he was a little shaky today, I might have thought about it. He nailed it. He looked good today.”
Sophomore defensive back Marsalis Teague was back in action Tuesday at Haslam Field after missing the previous two games. Teague is the Vols’ leader in passes defended with seven.
“He’s moving better out there,” Dooley said. “We’re bringing him back, limiting him, and giving him more each day. He looked a lot better today than he’s ever looked so he’ll be ready to go.”
Courtesy: Tennessee sports information