Heading into the spring game, the Vol Nation is wondering what improvements they can look for out of sophomore QB Tyler Bray. Last season he showed everyone that he was ready to sit on the Big Orange throne, but before that crown can be placed firmly on his brow, there are a few things he will have to improve on before Volniacs everywhere can embrace their new king.
Peyton Manning was already a stud when he threw his first pass for the Vols, although David Cutcliffe immediately informed him that he needed to improve his release speed each season because defenses would start reading his body language.
The overall simplicity is this: If you don't have the ball, you don't get sacked. Last season Bray was mud-caked 16 times, and I don't care if you put on 20 pounds in the offseason: If you get knocked down enough, you will eventually stay where you are put.
Elbow high, point the ball backwards, bang.
It's really a no-brainer, don't throw interceptions.
An interception every 22 attempts is not okay despite what mom and dad tell you. Quit worrying about the ESPN highlight reels and throw it away. Including the bowl game, Bray threw for 224 attempts and was intercepted 10 times during the season, three of which were in the bowl game against UNC, as if you didn't remember.
Reduce the interceptions by two thirds, and the success will be there.
There were times last season when Bray pulled me off my seat as he popped out of the pocket and started chasing down receivers. Justin Hunter could catch the ball whenever it was in jumping-reach; all Bray had to do was get it close, but nerves locked those ankles way too many times.
To be honest, he did this fairly well as a starting freshman and demonstrated potential mobility, but let's face facts: They'll be coming after him harder this year because they know his arm strength. The offensive line is still under extreme scrutiny, so a good pair of cleats will probably carry Bray a lot further than a questionable lineman with a stomach ache.
Sloppy handoffs will get a running back repeated MRI's quicker than anything they do on purpose.
Bray needs to spend serious time on running drills. Handoff skills are just as important as any other QB technique. Last season Tauren Poole was pummeled behind the line of scrimmage not once, but six times because Bray stalled in the pocket. Don't think Rajion Neal hasn't been studying this, and you never want a RB to stall in front of that defensive wall.
Give the bread low, then hide your belly. Handoff 101.
Just because a man can catch consistently in double coverage doesn't mean you throw into messes every down. You can't do that and expect to get TD's every attempt; much less expect to win against defenses like Florida and Bama.
Take this spring as an opportunity to examine that quick release I mentioned earlier, and remember 1st-and-10 is sometimes enough. Your receivers will thank you, and they'll be around for the duration of their college careers.
We know you have the arm, quit trying to prove it every down.
Darin Hinshaw is paid a lot of money to teach QB's how to read defenses, understand the necessity of audibles and how to shut up and listen when all they want to do is explain why they failed. Bray should let him earn his salary...or rather help him keep his job.
It's very hard as a young man to admit that you don't know every secret of the universe, but let me save any young man some time, you don't.
If the defense is beating you up, take the time to ask, "What should I do coach?"
Hinshaw is relatively unheard of, but rest assured he knows what he's doing, and he had to earn everything he got playing at UCF where he broke every school record. He has also earned the respect of his peers by tutoring offenses and developing key positions throughout his career. Here is a link to his credentials, and just for the record, Dooley was going to hire him before he left Tech.
One of the reasons a QB is successful is because of his study habits.
One things that is till mentioned to this day is the way Peyton Manning prepares for the season and every game; it all started with David Cutcliffe.
Cutcliffe once remarked that he had created a monster. He was referring to the countless hours Manning spent out of practice watching film and luring the receivers in for (wink-wink) private practice.
Knowing what your opponent will do in every situation is just being competitive. To this day Manning will watch up to 20 hours of film for game preparation outside of normal practice.
A note of interest: Despite Manning's dedication to the game, he still managed to finish his degree in three years with honors.
Bray doesn't have to be Manning, but he should aspire to be like him.
Now, I'm not suggesting Bray learn to coach the offensive line, but understanding what motivates the man that protects your blindside can only aid your lifespan and improve your leadership.
Spending a day watching Harry Hiestand correct linemen could help Bray understand weaknesses and strengths, allowing him to utilize all that information. So maybe if Jawuan James gets nervous on blitzes, you can seek protection or scramble in the opposite direction. Or what if your line responds better to Hiestand's voice? Learn to mimmick the tone, and you might get better protection on a couple of plays.
A box of doughnuts won't hurt their feelings either.
Starting QB's are too often complacent because they believe their talent is second to none. Maybe that's not the case anymore.
With a racehorse like Justin Worley ready to come out of the gates, you can't sit back thinking the job is yours again. Imagine Derek Dooley is Steve Spurrier, and your name is Garcia. Don't assume you're better, make the phenom look like a Pop Warner rookie. Every game means university dollars, and don't think for one minute that alumni and fans will support you if you don't produce.
Just close your eyes and repeat: The devil is at my heels, the devil is at my heels, the Gatorade National Player of the Year is at my heels.
“Confidence is a very fragile thing.” -Joe Montana
“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” -Vince Lombardi
When opportunity comes a knocking make sure you open the door. Winning when the chips are down is the way great QB's are born, not made. All the training in the world will go out the window if you don't believe in yourself and your teammates.
Fancy writing won't make this smell any better, Bray has a confidence problem, and I know he does because we all do to some degree, his just needs improving a little more than others. Leaders are responsible for each soul under their command, and ultimately it is their responsibility to make things happen.
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