Derek Dooley talks about Tyler Bray
Derek Dooley on Justin Worley's play
His hand is out of the cast.
His name appears to be staying on the disabled list.
Tyler Bray took the next step in his rehabilitation from a broken thumb that has kept the Tennessee quarterback out of the last four games on Monday, getting the hard, black wrap that had been protecting his right hand removed.
But there's still plenty to do before he is officially cleared for a return, starting with medical examinations and then obviously including some throwing observations. And for now, those things strongly point to him missing at least one more outing as the Vols travel to take on No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 6 p.m.).
"Tyler will get his cast off and will get evaluated," UT coach Derek Dooley said during his Monday news conference. "All right, so what does that mean? First of all, it means how is your strength to squeeze a ball, and it's going to take a little time because it's been kind of locked up there to get the range of motion back. Secondly and more importantly, how quickly has the bone healed? So, we'll X-ray it, evaluate it and take it from there.
"We don't expect him to play, I never have expected him to play this week, but that's kind of the next step in the process."
Based on the original timetable set out for Bray, the process seems to be playing out essentially as anticipated.
The Vols (4-5, 0-5 SEC) projected a six-week recovery after Bray banged his throwing hand into a Georgia helmet in the fourth quarter of a loss a month ago today, and at this point there has been no indication from the program suggesting he might be back under center any earlier than that. With the cast now off and assuming the bone is healed, UT
should be able to gauge his progress better moving forward as it tries to get a feel for his availability during another late push for a bowl bid.
But as the Vols turn their attention to the Razorbacks (8-1, 4-1) and another stiff conference test on the road, there doesn't seem to be a lot of doubt about his status this week.
"We've got to look at the X-ray, we've got to feel his strength levels, and if both of those things check out, which the likelihood is they won't, then I think we go to a CT scan, and that's the final determining factor," Dooley said. "The pain is not the issue, the pain is what he can tolerate. The issue is the bone has got to be healed, because we're not going to put him out there and the bone is almost there but it's not, because then you hit it and (get hurt again).
"The bone has to be healed, he's got to be able to tolerate the pain and be able to perform. If he can't go out there and throw it how he's used to throwing it, why play him?"
The Vols aren't going to rush Bray back regardless of the situation, but it's surely more comforting to head into another game without him than it was a week ago after a nervy debut for Justin Worley against South Carolina.
The true freshman bounced back from his rough first outing in a big way by leading an efficient 24-0 win over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, completing 23-of-32 passes for 291 yards with a touchdown and without a turnover. And while there's not much question that Worley is only the starter until Bray is healthy, the Vols obviously haven't lost any faith in his ability to keep the seat warm.
"He performed the way we hoped he would, so we have confidence in Justin," Dooley said. "I tell you, we had it going into South Carolina, he just had first-game jitters. Now, Justin's challenge will be that he's playing on the road, he's playing an SEC team, a top-10 team, there will be a lot more adversity than he faced Saturday night.
"But you've got to get the first step before you can get the second. So, we'll see how he handles it."
In the meantime, the Vols might be keeping another eye on the handle Bray can get on the football now that there's no cast preventing it.