After Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray struggled through his 5-for-30 (yes, 5-for-30) performance in a losing effort in the Volunteers' 2011 spring game, Derek Dooley suggested -- however subtly -- that Bray had been too confident entering the game, and maybe entering all of spring practice. Since Bray has played the familiar role of borderline-cocky gunslinger since the moment he took over the Vol starting job in fall 2010 (remember his throat-slashing gesture in the 2010 Music City Bowl?) this was more confirmation than revelation on Dooley's part.
Still, it's one thing for his coach to gently chide his star quarterback for his off-field demeanor. It's another for that quarterback to call himself out for it. But that's what Bray did Monday, telling the Knoxville News-Sentinel he needed to "get his act together."
Bray wasn't afraid to define "where it needs to be" as ambitiously as possible.
"Just to get this team back to where it needs to be," Bray said when asked his goals for the spring. "Get it back to where we were in the '90s."
Considering that where it was in the '90s was a perennial national title contender under Peyton Manning and (surprise!) an actual national champion once Manning had departed, that's a high bar to clear. To be fair to Bray, though, acknowledging his role in the team's 2011 failures -- he admitted he "kind of struggled" at being a leader and "played terrible" in the season-ending defeat at Kentucky -- is a positive first step.
For Vol fans, the good news is that if Bray can take those kinds of off-field steps and stay healthy, '90s-style glory might not be attainable, but a nine-win season and momentum-restoring boost to Dooley's beleaguered tenure certainly is. No one has any doubts about Bray's arm, his command of the offense, his receiving corps (now that Justin Hunter is back in the fold) or his confidence. If his thumb is healed -- Dooley says it is -- and his head is on straight, there shouldn't be anything keeping the Vols from putting together one of the SEC's best passing attacks.
That alone won't save Dooley's job. (As he well knows, repairing the nation's 116th-ranked rushing game is even more critical than having Bray operating at full capacity.) But it'll still do the Vols a world of good.
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