Vols' Bray 'flat-lines' his way to starting job

It’s called flat-lining, and Tyler Bray has been mastering the art since his Pop Warner football days.

“You have no feelings out there,” said Bray, Tennessee’s true freshman quarterback. “If you score or if everything’s going wrong, nobody should ever know the difference.”

It’s the part of Bray’s game that Tennessee coach Derek Dooley swears by, but Dooley has also been known to swear at it.

Nothing seems to faze the lanky Californian, who in his first start last week in Tennessee’s 50-14 battering of Memphis threw five touchdown passes … in the first half.

Not even Peyton Manning threw five touchdowns in a half when he was playing for the Vols.

So, some pretty heady stuff, huh?

Not so much for Bray.

He shrugged off his record performance right after the game and said he’s been too zoned in on Ole Miss to think much about it ever since.

“I put that in the past a long time ago,” Bray said. “You have to in this league. We’ve got Ole Miss to worry about.”

The Vols (3-6, 0-5) had been waiting for the right time to give Bray a shot. Dooley also wanted to make sure that Bray had proven that he was ready.

After all, the 6-6 Bray reported to Tennessee earlier this year weighing 186 pounds soaking wet. He needed to bulk up both physically and mentally -- learning the playbook and exuding the overall presence that comes with being a starting quarterback.

“He’s a real steady, calm, laid-back personality,” Dooley said. “I think it’s a strength in some ways, but it can also drive you nuts sometimes.”

As a strength, Bray has been unflappable on the field. He has a knack for feeling the rush and has the arm and the instincts to step up in the pocket and deliver bullets.

He’s not a scrambler by any means. But he is crafty when it comes to sidestepping defenders, knows where the pressure is coming from and can put the ball where the receivers like it.

And even if he throws an interception on his first pass attempt of the game like he did against South Carolina two weeks ago, he’s going to keep coming after you.

“It doesn’t seem like he gets affected,” Dooley said. “There’s probably nothing more important in being a competitor and a good player than not being affected by bad things that happen in a game, by hard coaching, by anything. So that’s where it’s a real strength.”

There’s also a flip side to Bray’s laid-back persona.

“Where it drives you crazy are a lot of the things that prohibited us from playing him early, which was his command of the offense and his understanding of where all the other parts should be on a given play,” Dooley said. “Just his overall control because he’s such a laid-back personality.

“I think, in the end, I’d rather have a guy not affected, and we’ll work on the other part.”

Bray said he’s now up to 205 pounds. He also said he never lost faith that he would get a shot this season while backing up junior college signee Matt Simms the first two-thirds of the season.

“You’re always just one snap away,” Bray said. “That’s why you have to prepare every day like you’re the starter, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Bray is from Kingsburg, Calif., and admits it took some getting used to once he moved to Knoxville. At one point, his family had also moved to Knoxville, but Bray said they have since moved back.

He jokes that he’s trying hard not to acquire a Southern accent. Otherwise, he’ll get abused by his friends when he goes home. He’s also lobbying hard for Knoxville to get an “In and Out Burger.”

And one other thing: He’s just about given up Mexican food until he goes back to the West Coast.

“I can’t even explain what the Mexican food is like here,” Bray said. “I used to eat a ton of burritos. But out here, I really haven’t found a place yet.”

Either way, the Vols have seemed to find their quarterback -- for the present and the future.

“I don’t worry too much about the future,” Bray said.

It sounds like he doesn’t worry too much about much of anything.

But, then, that’s usually the case with flat-liners.