Nov. 15, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - When the Vols hit the field in Nashville on Saturday, Jay Graham will be in a familiar situation -- sporting the Power T in a game against in-state foe Vanderbilt.
As a player, Graham was a perfect 4-0 as a running back for Tennessee from 1993-96. The Big Orange won those four games by an average of 38-7 as Graham piled up 450 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Vandy.
After pummeling the Commodores in his freshman and sophomore seasons (62-14 and 65-0), Graham and the Vols were in one-possession games in his final two affairs.
"I remember my junior year it came down to the last drive," Graham recalled the of the Vols' 12-7 win in 1995. "It is always a tough game."
Graham scored the game-winning touchdowns in that '95 game on a 1-yard rush with 2:59 left in regulation to avoid the upset. Graham piled up 211 rushing yards on 39 carries in that win.
The following year, Tennessee held off Vandy once again, winning 14-7 with Graham opening the scoring with a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
"My senior year it was a tough game," Graham said. "They are always going to play hard, it is going to be a good rivalry. It has always been a good rivalry."
Graham did not have success in his lone game on the sidelines with the Vols as a graduate assistant against Vanderbilt, suffering a 28-24 defeat at Neyland Stadium in 2005 to end a 22-game win streak in the series.
"I just remember playing hard and taking the whole four quarters to win," Graham said. "Always coming down to the last drive, fourth-down plays. You have to make plays. It has always been a good game and hopefully it is this weekend as well."
FROM BABY GIRAFFE TO ROBOCOPTyler Bray has always had the arm to play quarterback. His feet, however, have required some work.
Although he is working with the team's wide receivers this season, assistant coach Darin Hinshaw has helped Bray with his footwork as much as anyone, having served as the Vols' quarterbacks coach his first two years at Rocky Top.
When recruiting Bray, the UT coaches knew there would be a few things they would have to teach him but were confident they could mold him into the quarterback he has become today.
"You can always train a quarterback to get under center and focus on all the fundamentals to be a pro quarterback," Hinshaw said. "When Tyler got here, he looked like a baby giraffe trying to get under center. It was embarrassing, but he worked at it and worked at it and now it is like second-hand to him."
With at least two games still remaining on the schedule, Bray has already put together one of the best statistical seasons ever posted by a Tennessee quarterback with over 3,000 yards passing and 29 touchdowns. Hinshaw credits much of that success to the improvement he has made with his footwork.
"As a quarterback when you start seeing some different things and your feet slow down, and you start seeing some things maybe they are changing up some coverages and stuff like that, that is when you lose your rhythm," Hinshaw said. "As a quarterback, keeping your rhythm is the whole key to the game.
"Being able to stay in rhythm, understand and focus on your reads and deliver the ball on time, he has done a great job with that. There have only been a couple of times where you go, `Man, I wish we had that throw back or that situation back.' He has been doing a really good job. Your feet make your arm go at quarterback."
Another contributing factor to his ability to put up video-game numbers has been the fact that he simply isn't getting sacked this season. After yielding 41 sacks in 2010 and 18 a year ago, the Vols have allowed Bray to be tackled for a loss an NCAA-low five times this season.
While the offensive line certainly deserves the bulk of the credit for that remarkable stat, Bray's ability to move around in the pocket has played a role in it as well.
"He looks like RoboCop out there with all those braces and everything but he does a good job and he has great elusiveness in the pocket," Hinshaw said. "We have the situation with our offensive line and how well they are protecting him, but he also eludes the pass-rush really well and gets rid of the football."
Bray even showed off a few moves outside of the pocket last Saturday against Missouri, scrambling for a season-long nine-yard gain at one point.
"It was crazy," Hinshaw said. "We were all like, `What is going on?' He did a really good job in that situation. They had everybody covered and he went and scrambled and got nine yards and got us in position right there to go get a first down. That was a good job by him and that is something that Tyler is going to have to continue to do."
GETTING THE CALLLast week against Missouri, Tyler Drummer took part in a moment that he, his family and friends will never forget.
The junior walk-on wide receiver turned holder, took a J.R. Carr snap, made a move to the right, tucked the ball and raced what is technically five yards, but was more like 12, into the endzone for a touchdown in the second overtime against Missouri to put the Vols up 42-35.
The gutsy call, made by head coach Derek Dooley, turned the junior's eyes as wide as saucers.
"He didn't have a poker face when I told him we were running that I will tell you that much," said special teams coach Charlie Coiner. "He was like `Are you serious?'"
The Vols lined up for what could have been a 22-yard field goal and instead put another seven, much-needed points, up on the board.
"We saw the alignment that gave it to us," Coiner said. "We worked on it during the week, coach made that call and I am not sure who's eyes were bigger, me or Drummer. I looked at him and said are you sure and he was. It was a great call. It ended up good."
Drummer, who grew up in Knoxville going to Tennessee games, lived out a childhood fantasy against Missouri, something he will never forget.
I am proud of those kids," Coiner said. "It is really great when you coach as much as I have and you see a kid like that, get to have an experience like that which he will obviously never forget, and his family and friends will never forget. I am really happy for him."
THROW IT TO BULLARD!As a sophomore in 2011, Alex Bullard started six games at left guard and six games at center. Before transferring to Tennessee two years ago, he saw some time at tackle at Notre Dame. None of those hops along the offensive line, however, have been as big as his leap to tight end this year.
Bullard has played in all 10 contests in 2012, including two starts at tight end. Special teams and tight ends coach Charlie Coiner and offensive line coach Sam Pittman appreciate the junior from Franklin, Tenn., for his versatility.
"He's done a good job," Coiner said. "We're happy with him. It has saved us because we've had tight end shortages at one time or another with guys dinged up here or there."
"The main reason we went with Alex out at tight end this year is because he wasn't in the starters and we knew that he's athletic enough to handle the edge," Pittman said.
Pittman has been pleased with the blocking consistency Bullard has maintained in his move to tight end. His edge blocking has been just as good as it was when he was working inside.
"He's really done a nice job out there and his attitude is incredible," Pittman said. "He's really accepted his role and it's a big role, but at times it's a 20-play role instead of a 75 to 80-play role that he'd like to have had. And we'd like for him to have it. It just hasn't worked out that way."
Lining up as a tight end, the 6-2, 300-pound Bullard is now an eligible receiver. So, how long until he sees a pass thrown his way?
"Like I said, he's done a really good job in the run game," Coiner joked when asked about Bullard's pass-catching skills. "Ha, you never know. That's the thing. People would like to think never, but we've seen stranger things than that too."
Pittman has a ringing endorsement for UT's secret weapon.
"Yes, he has outstanding hands," Pittman said with a grin. "He has the best hands on the team (laughs). We just want everybody to think we may throw him a pass. And by the way, we have thrown him one in practice."
Did he catch it?
"Yes, he did."
CP CONTINUING TO IMPROVEWhen Cordarrelle Patterson has the football in his hands there are few, if any, players in college football that are more electric.
His play without the ball remains a work in-progress, however, although he has shown significant improvement in recent weeks.
"He has gotten a lot better from the first day he got here to where he is now and his development will continue to go on," UT wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said. "He has to continue to get better at that but when you go watch him in 1-on-1s, he is hard to cover. That is the situation, he is getting that mentality now where every route is like a 1-on-1 route. Even in zone, I'm running like I am getting the ball, I'm getting the ball, I'm getting the ball and he is getting better every week."
As his all-around game continues to improve, talk about his NFL Draft stock has naturally begun to pop up. Those discussions have remained among the media and fan base, however, as Patterson is only concerned about the task at hand and helping the Vols prepare to take on Vanderbilt on Saturday.
"That's something we talked about before the season started and we said, `Guys, you just have to take every week,' Hinshaw said. "We have not talked about that at all right now. We are focusing on this week like we do every week and focusing on doing what we have to do to go out there and prepare and give the best game that we can for Tennessee."