Derek Dooley on the first day of spring practice
Tyler Bray was asked Monday what goals he might have for spring practice. His answer wasn't about the technical minutia that is germane to spring ball.
No, it was big picture.
"Just to get this team back to where it needs to be," said Bray. "Get it back to where we were in the '90s."
Hello. No beating around the bush.
Tennessee fans, at least the portion of them who imbibe in talk radio and chat rooms, have an uneasy relationship with their quarterback.
He has thrilled them with his physical skills. He has frustrated them with his perceived cavalier attitude at times.
He knows this, which counts for something.
"Last year," Bray said in his first media setting since the season-ending loss at Kentucky, "I wasn't the smartest guy. Kind of dumb.
"This year I'm trying to get my act together and trying to get this team where it needs to be."
If Bray could lead this program back to where
it was in the '90s, all past questionable moments would be forgiven.
He can't do it alone, of course. And given how far the Vols have fallen relative to certain rivals, even an All-America season from Bray wouldn't guarantee a return to the good old days.
But you've got to like the fact that he's thinking that way. It's progress.
As spring practice gets under way this week, Bray is beginning the second half of his career at UT. It's time to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
"I've tried to be a leader as much as possible," Bray said. "I've kind of struggled at it, but I'm working on it."
Some embrace leadership more readily than others. Bray isn't the first kid thrust into the spotlight early on who suffered a misstep or two.
The spotlight doesn't get any brighter than it gets on a quarterback in SEC football. Coming from rural California, it's easy to see that Bray might not have been fully up to speed on the expectations that awaited.
And he wasn't stepping into Tennessee of the '90s. He arrived at a program teetering on the edge of desperation.
It appears better days are ahead, both for the Vols and the gun-slinging quarterback who will lead them.
"Tyler has definitely stepped up as a leader," said offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James. "In the weight room he's been more vocal and out here he's been more vocal."
Like Bray said, he's trying. If he "gets his act together" the sky is the limit because there's never been any question about his tools.
With only 12 starts under his belt, he's already ninth on the UT career passing yardage chart and seventh on the TD-pass chart. If he throws for two scores against North Carolina State in the opener he'll be fourth.
Speaking of the '90s, Bray has already spent time in Peyton Manning's celestial statistical neighborhood.
His 10 consecutive games of multiple TD passes broke Manning's school record. Against Cincinnati last fall he joined Manning as the only Vol to pass for 400 yards in a game.
In fact, before he hurt his thumb against Georgia last year, Bray was off to the most prolific four-game start in UT passing history.
Neither UT nor Bray were the same after the injury. He missed five games and wasn't as effective when he returned for the final two.
As for the crash at Kentucky, Bray was as bummed as anyone initially. He said he's been coached to get over adversity quickly and move on to the next thing.
That's one reason he still hasn't watched the Kentucky tape.
"But I know I played terrible," he said. "The team played terrible too, but as quarterback, I kind of started it off, going downhill."
That's in the past. Spring is here and with it the promise of a new season, a change of direction.
The quarterback is thinking big.