KNOXVILLE - As Tennessee sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray gets acclimated to playing football again, the Vols are trying to make his comeback as simple as possible.
To avoid the ball being snapped directly into Bray’s once broken thumb, the Vols have been operating out of the pistol formation in practice this week.
“You have to work on the ball handling,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “That’s different. When you get in the pistol, there’s a pistol offense and there’s getting into the pistol formation. Alabama runs the pistol formation, but it’s really a traditional, pro-style offense. Nevada runs the pistol offense, which is the veer option and all the other stuff. It’s really just a formation. You’re just backing the (quarterback) up to eliminate a couple of steps.”
The formation won’t change much for the Vols, even for sophomore center Alex Bullard.
“It’s just a shotgun snap for him,” Dooley said. “You’re talking about a half-a-yard of difference, not much. It’s just like being in shotgun. The difference is, there will be plays where the tailback is standing behind the quarterback.”
Bray’s status for Saturday is the same as it was the last two days.
“He’s about the same as yesterday. We’ll just see day-to-day. We limited his reps a little bit, especially early in practice so he can kind of manage it through the rest of the deal. No real difference from yesterday.”
Whether Bray can play or not, he’s thankful for the opportunity to be back out on the practice field. The Kingsburg, Calif., native’s time on the sidelines changed his perspective.
“I study a lot and also, you realize how much football really means to you,” Bray said. “(You) kind of take it for granted that you have to come out and practice every day. Once you get hurt and that’s taken away from you, you see things differently.”
MISSED TACKLES = MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
The Tennessee defense was plagued by a case of missed tackles last week in Fayetteville and Arkansas took full advantage, racking up 499 yards of total offense and scoring 49 points. For the most part, the Vols felt pretty good about their scheme and positioning, but the missed tackles simply provided the Razorbacks too many second chances.
“The total was about 16 or 18,” Wilcox said. “It was just bad tackling. We practiced it during the week and just did not execute well. You can’t play good defense when you don’t tackle well, so that’s an issue.”
While part of the problem was the result of some Arkansas players making plays, the root of the issue starts with breakdowns in a number of areas on UT’s side of the line of scrimmage.
“(Missed tackles) are a culmination of things,” Wilcox said. “It’s guys playing technique right, it’s playing fast, playing physical, it’s finishing tackles and running to the ball. The fundamentals have been good in practice, it’s just something during the game. Whether it was a guy taking a bad angle because of the speed of the back, a guy not finishing and wrapping up, just a number of things that showed up. It wasn’t any one thing or at any one position.
“It’s just (about) not finishing. We really had a good week of practice and had been tackling well. Some of it has to do with us obviously not finishing and also they had some good players who broke some tackles. There is zero excuse for that. If you are going to play good defense, I don’t care what scheme you run, you have to tackle well. Obviously that is a huge emphasis for us this week and it will be big during the game.”
When asked what a reasonable number of missed tackles in a game might be, Wilcox knew the exact number he would like to have.
“Zero,” Wilcox said. “In reality you are always going to have a couple, but the key is when you have one guy miss a tackle, you have 10 other guys hunting the football so that one doesn’t become so glaring. The best defenses in football are going to miss a tackle, but the make-up of everybody else running to the football and finishing. If you have two on one play, you are guaranteed to give up a big play and that happened a couple of times (at Arkansas) where we had two missed tackles on one play. That just can’t happen.
Unfortunately there isn’t a new drill or any other simple solution the Vols can turn to as they continue their preparations for Vanderbilt. Instead, the answer to the problem remains good old-fashioned hard work and execution.
“We’ve practiced it just like we did last week,” Wilcox said. “We are going to continue to practice tackling. We did tackling yesterday and today, and we’ll do it again tomorrow. It’s just overemphasizing it. They know that in order for us to play well, we can’t miss tackles.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney doesn’t need to turn on the radio or flip open a newspaper to feel pressure. His stress derives from his own desire to do his job to the best of his ability.
“Our pressure, particularly me is on myself,” Chaney said. “I don’t listen and read all the other stuff. I know we haven’t been performing at the level we need to, and you feel bad. As an individual, I don’t really care what your profession is when you are failing at what you have chosen to do, which I feel like we have a little bit from this is a personal thing, you reflect on a lot of issues. I feel bad about that.
“All I know to do is go back to work and keep working on it. Pressure, I don’t feel like anyone is saying ‘Hey, if you don’t score 40 points this week I am going to fire you.’ I don’t feel that way. My pressure is more internal to try to get a group of kids to try and perform at a higher level.”
With two games left to play, and the Vols two wins away from bowl eligibility, the team is aware of the situation it’s in.
“I thought we had a very good practice,” Chaney said. “I feel like they have refocused a little bit. I think they understand the magnitude of a game. It is a SEC conference game coming in here; Vanderbilt is playing very good football. I do sense they feel that though.”
Tennessee is gearing its focus towards the process, rather than the result.
“I want our kids to go out and perform because it is a football game and we are representing the University of Tennessee,” Chaney said. “To me, their performance level is what we are continuing looking for is consistent performance which we have been unable to obtain thus far. If they go out and walk across the line and play their butts off for sixty minutes I am very comfortable with that. That is what we want to try and get done.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On evaluating Tyler Bray)
“You’re just trying to get a beat on what he can handle. What he cannot handle today, he might be able to handle Saturday. There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty.”
(On the game of football)
“The game is not as complex as we try to make it sometimes. Coaches make it real complex. There’s that old saying, ‘Football is a simple game made complicated by ego.’ Sometimes we want to show how smart we are and we do all this stuff. At the end of the day, sometimes the simple things tend to work better.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
(On Tyler Bray)
“It’s definitely a tough grind. The season is longer, the bodies are bigger and the people are as strong as you. As you watch a kid who hasn’t thrown a football for four or five weeks, it is what you would expect. There are times when he looks OK and there times where he looks really rusty and you worry about those kinds of things. I don’t know what the rest of the week is going to add up to, right now he is in and out. He looks good, okay and sometimes he doesn’t look so good. It is an iffy situation for us as we approach everyday right now.”
(On adjusting to the pistol offense)
“I think that is what you do. You find a way, as coaches, you find a way if Tyler has to play in the ball game that we have to do some of that stuff. That is just the reality of what we are dealing with.”
(On Vanderbilt’s defense)
“I think they play very hard with a high level of confidence right now and they are very talented. I think, to say that they are not a talented bunch of defensive players would be misleading. I think they are talented, they don’t get out of whack and they are a good defense. It is tough to find any team that consistently ran the ball efficiently on them. It is difficult to find. Even the better rushing teams didn’t knock them off the ball and they are always in position to make plays in the secondary. They are risk takers back there but they do it with a good head on their shoulders. They are impressive to watch, they are a very good team. It is going to be quite a challenge on us; we are looking forward to it.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
(On Vanderbilt’s offense)
“They are very multiple. They give you a lot of different formations, shifts, motions and a lot of deceptive plays. They are very good at the skill positions. Their quarterback is playing extremely well. Their tight end, in terms of the run game and the pass game, is very active. Their wideouts are big and long. They do a great job of taking the ball away from people. People will have them covered and they will take the ball away. I think their back is a very good player. Across the board, they have guys that can beat you. They have moved the ball up and down on everybody. I think they are playing better and better and they are probably playing their best football of the year right now, in my opinion.”
(On Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rogers)
“He moves the chains. He does it in a lot of different ways. He’ll throw it, he’ll run it, he’ll scramble. He just makes plays. When it’s third and six, he finds a way to get a first down. That’s probably the best way to describe him. He has done an excellent job. Schematically, they do a lot of different things. He gives you issues because of the quarterback runs and those type of things.”
(On Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy)
“He is a very powerful guy and he has really good vision. I can’t count them off the top of my head, but he has broken a lot of long runs this year. We’ve seen some good backs and he is every bit as good as those backs and is very deserving because he has been a very productive runner.”
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray
(On being back at practice)
“I wouldn’t say normal. I’m not where I was a couple of weeks ago. But, I’m getting to throw a little bit and just kind of getting back into things, kind of feel things out.”
(On Bray pushing to play)
“It’s up to Coach Dooley, if he feels like I can make the throws then I will and if not, it will be (Justin) Worley again.”
(On his pain)
“There is still a little pain. It’s healed, but it’s still going to be a little bit rusty, just being in a cast that long. Other than that, it’s fine.”
(On the pistol)
“I ran it in high school, so it’s pretty easy. I’m used to it, I’ve done it before.”
(Reaction at the start of his injury)
“I kind of got a little angry, a little mad, and not doing what I needed to do to help the team, I was more about myself, but towards the end of it, I was more about the team and tried to get them where they needed to be.”