Oct. 18, 2012
By Adam K. Moussa
Pocket presence -- it's an immeasurable attribute, but one that is absolutely essential to the success of quarterbacks competing in the Southeastern Conference.
It is this intangible quality that Tennessee's top receiving target, Justin Hunter, insists his 6-foot-6 signal caller, Tyler Bray, has used to guide the Volunteers to victory throughout his tenure on Rocky Top.
"Tyler doesn't get rattled very often," said Hunter. "His height allows him to see the field very well, and he does a good job of sensing pressure, stepping up in the pocket and avoiding the rush. He's just Cali cool."
This year, Bray, a native of Kingsburg, Calif., has used his laid-back approach to stand and deliver over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns in Tennessee's new-look, up-tempo offense.
"We put more on Tyler's shoulders, this season," said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. "By spreading out and speeding up our attack, we opened him up to taking more hits. But, he's handled the pressure with a lot of poise."
And while Bray's ability to avoid defenders has impressed his play caller, it hasn't diminished the difficulties that he endured along the way.
"When I got to Knoxville, I quickly learned that there's a lot more to being the Tennessee quarterback than just throwing passes," said Bray. "You're constantly in front of a camera, there's never a day off and there's always someone critiquing you." Amid adjusting to the publicity and pressure of being UT's QB, Bray took the reins of the Tennessee offense as a true freshman in November of 2010.
In his first outing as the Volunteers' starting gunslinger, Bray added to his hype by throwing for 325 yards and five touchdowns in a 50-14 dismantling of Memphis. The former four-star recruit would go on to close the campaign by leading the Vols to three more consecutive victories and a Music City Bowl berth.
The next year, the rocket-armed Bray would return as the Big Orange's offensive leader, only to have his sophomore season cut short by a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
"Being hurt and having to stand back and watch from the sideline was hard on me," said Bray. "But ultimately, that experience helped me appreciate everything and it gave me more of a coach's view of the game."
Since bouncing back from injury, Bray, now a junior, has used his newfound perspective to place himself in the company of some of the most decorated passers in Tennessee's storied history. To date, Bray holds records that rank him among the top 10 in completions, yards and touchdowns, accomplishments that aren't lost on his prime time target.
"Bray's been through a lot during his time on The Hill," said Hunter. "He was thrown in as a freshman and had to learn on the fly, and then he experienced one of the most serious injuries a quarterback can endure. But, he's overcome that adversity to put up numbers with the best of them. For his career to unfold like it has, with all that he's faced, it's taken a lot of toughness."
"He's made some mistakes over the years, but he's stuck with the team, stepped up when we needed him to, and stood tall throughout it all."