Derek Dooley might not have put extra emphasis on his spring game, but he still watched the film of it.
The Tennessee coach clearly didn’t enjoy what he saw from his quarterback live or on tape, though all practices being equal, Dooley could pop in 14 other workouts to watch and probably feel much better.
Given a couple days to digest the end of spring practice, Dooley’s analysis of Tyler Bray’s rocky finish to camp in the Orange and White Game didn’t change much since Saturday. But it also didn’t overshadow what had been a productive couple weeks leading up to the exhibition, and it wasn’t nearly enough to convince him Bray isn’t the clear starter for the Vols.
“Certainly Tyler’s performance on paper was horrible, and there were a lot of reasons for it,” Dooley said during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “Some were his fault, but most of it had to do with a lot of extenuating circumstances.
“I thought the last two weeks of spring practice he really performed the way we expected him to perform from a command standpoint, from an accuracy standpoint, from a judgement and decision-making standpoint, so that was encouraging. Certainly Tyler has a lot of work ahead of him, and he’s still in the infant stages of quarterbacking.”
That assessment wasn’t difficult to believe as Bray struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in a 5-for-30 passing effort over the weekend, but he had shown signs of growing up in the previous workouts as he tries to build on his freshmen success last fall.
Just a week earlier in the second of UT’s two live scrimmages, Bray was in total command of the offense, throwing for 258 yards and four touchdowns while completing 17 of his 30 attempts to further entrench himself at the top of the depth chart. And while Matt Simms was effective in leading the White to the 24-7 win on Saturday, in the previous scrimmage the senior was just 6-for-16 with two interceptions -- yet another reason Dooley isn’t reading much into one afternoon.
That’s a lesson he learned the hard way after a brutal summer worrying about LSU quarterback Matt Mauck in 2002 after a five-interception performance in a spring game, which preceded an 18-2 run as the starter capped off with a national championship.
“I always get a little nervous about overvaluing the spring game, because I remember the year (before) we won the national championship, Matt Mauck had (five) interceptions in the spring game at LSU,” Dooley said. “We were in a panic state all offseason and summer, and then he went on to be the winningest quarterback in LSU history.
“There were a lot of reasons for his performance, and Tyler, of course, is the starting point. But the combination of the receiving corps, the offensive line, what we were running on offense to help him, there’s a lot of issues that went into it. We’re really going to evaluate Tyler on how he did over those other 14 practices and hopefully discount what happened in the spring game.”
Or perhaps Dooley can simply hope his spring-game history repeats itself.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.