Brian Randolph on the play of the secondary
Tennessee Stat Book
The first workout included mishandled snaps, inconsistent accuracy and occasional issues with timing.
It was almost exactly what Tennessee expected as Tyler Bray returned to the practice field.
The sophomore balanced that out by also delivering a few perfectly thrown balls down the field, having no problems in the shotgun formation and even showing signs of improvement by the end of just one morning back in pads with the Vols on Tuesday.
And while Bray might have looked slightly better than Derek Dooley anticipated, neither the good nor the bad did anything to change the status of his quarterback as the UT coach prepares his team for an instate showdown with Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.).
"He's got a broken thumb, so you can't grip the ball and throw it the way you do when you don't have a broken thumb," Dooley said. "And so, it's going to take some time, guys. It's like everything around here — we want immediate fixes, and his thumb is not fixed.
"You don't just put magic serum on it and he can go throw like he did five weeks ago. It will come. I don't know if it'll be this week. I know he won't be as good as he was (before the injury) this week, I know that for a fact — if he plays at all. We'll see."
What the Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) saw from Bray as he put pads back on for the first time after missing five games with that thumb injury wasn't enough to rule him in or out of the lineup against the Commodores (5-5, 2-5). His mixed results in practice are keeping him still officially listed as "questionable."
Bray had issues in the early going taking snaps from center Alex Bullard, which also wasn't exactly a surprise to the Vols and was addressed by largely keeping him in the shotgun — including for running plays out of a new pistol formation. His passes weren't quite as precise as normal, either, with both his range of motion and perhaps rust interfering with his rhythm.
But there also were a few bright moments along that way that provided flashbacks to the first month of the season for him, and by the end of the morning session, those seemed to be the ones that stuck out most for the Vols.
"At first, I was like, 'Wow, I don't know about this,' " running back Tauren Poole said. "But at the end, you know, he was throwing it around and kind of got the hang of it. You could tell he was kind of favoring it a little bit, but at the end of practice he was zipping it.
"In team period, it was kind of exciting to get him back out there, and I'm just hoping he can do it in a game. That's all we want, see him do it in a game, see him produce. It's definitely a different pace in practice from a game."
Bray still has to prove he can fully handle the former before he'll get a crack at the Commodores and a chance to lead the Vols on another late run to a bowl game, and he didn't seem to be at that point just yet.
But Dooley hardly found that to be unusual for a guy who only had the cast removed from his throwing hand just more than a week ago. And he also isn't going to use that small sample size to make a final decision about Bray's status.
"I think it was about what I expected — actually a little better, but still not even close," Dooley said. "You know, you can't be in a cast for a month and then come out of a cast and just say, 'I'm good.' I mean, we live in La-La Land, he lives in La-La Land. I'm the only guy that has any sense of reality in this whole organization.
"It's data. I look at data. I look at data on everything, and I look at evidence. I guess that's the legal part of me. I just don't use imagination. The reality is he's questionable for the game."
One practice didn't do anything to change that either way. But Bray and the Vols still have two more to sort it out.