The change under center is official.
That doesn’t mean it’s permanent.
Tennessee will break in a new starting quarterback on Saturday (TV: CBS College Sports, 8 p.m.) at Memphis, giving Tyler Bray a chance to build on a breakout second half in a loss last Saturday against No. 18 South Carolina. But even in announcing the move on Monday, coach Derek Dooley left open the possibility that a rotation with the true freshman and junior Matt Simms will continue as the Vols enter the final month of the regular season.
The order of the signal-callers is now different for the first time all year though.
“We’re going to start Tyler Bray this week, and I just feel like that’s the best thing for our team right now,” Dooley said during his weekly press conference. “The plan is going to be exactly how I went into the South Carolina game, which was, let’s see how he’s doing. If he needs to take a few series to kind of catch his breath a little bit, we’ll put Matt in and see how Matt does.
“Until a quarterback says, ‘Coach, you’re an idiot for not playing me all four quarters,’ by his play and not his words, then we’ll just keep sorting through it. Neither has had actions that say, ‘Play me for four quarters.’ There’s enough in both of their play to say maybe you should put the other guy in a little bit. We’re going to keep doing it until they perform at a level where we feel like we’re really bad evaluators by playing the other guy.”
Whether that happens against the lowly Tigers (1-7, 0-5 Conference USA) remains to be seen, but Bray will have the first chance to stake a claim to the gig.
Despite completing 9-of-15 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns while leading a second-half rally against the Gamecocks, there were still some hiccups for the freshman after taking over the offense for UT (2-6, 0-5 SEC).
Bray was sacked three times, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and has had issues making his voice heard while leading the huddle and getting the Vols aligned.
But the impressive tosses to Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones for scores in the third quarter were prime examples of the positives his big arm can produce, which certainly played a part in Dooley’s decision. And if Bray can eliminate the negative plays, UT might not be faced with another one.
“I had no idea, I was just letting the coaches decide,” Bray said. “Whatever they decided was going to be fine with me.
“(Dooley) just said we need to cut down some turnovers, just move the ball and not take any sacks, throw the ball. … It’s still just football. You just have to go out there, the line still has to block, receivers still have to catch the ball and you still have to throw it. It’s still the same.”
The personnel could look noticeably different though, with Bray possibly taking snaps and a new center delivering them to him as James Stone works into the picture there this week.
But in terms of play-calling, the Vols don’t figure to change all that much based on the quarterback — which is obviously subject to change.
“That’s how I’m going to look at it,” Simms said. “I don’t want to just take the week off, then, ‘Hey, you have to go in and play,’ and not play well and let my teammates down.
“It’s my job to make sure that I stay focused this week and make sure I’m disciplined and know the assignments.”
For both Simms and Bray, their jobs officially have new descriptions.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.