Vol quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw would've been happier if Tyler Bray had gone 17 for 27. That would mean the sophomore QB purposely threw the ball away on the three occasions when Montana sacked him in the opener. Hinshaw much prefers a lower completion percentage due to a hurry than a higher down-and-distance situation due to a sack.
"In those situations we've got to throw the ball away," the Vol aide said this week. "It's going to hurt our completion percentage but it's going to help our football team."
Statistics suggest as much. Former Vol Erik Ainge completed a program record 67.0 percent of his passes as a junior in 2006 but he and backup Jonathan Crompton were sacked 19 times that fall. On orders from offensive coordinator David Cutliffe, Ainge unloaded quicker in 2007. The result was a modest drop in completion percentage (from 67.0 to 62.6) but a huge drop in sacks (from 19 to 4) and a significant jump in points from 27.8 per game in '06 to 32.5 in '07.
Because sack totals tend to be more telling than completion rates, Hinshaw wasn't concerned when Bray completed just 47 percent of his throws in Tennessee's three preseason scrimmages.
"There were some scrimmage situations where he had to throw the ball away," the Vol aide explained. "In that situation I grade him based on if you throw the ball away it looks bad on the stat sheet but it was a good decision because we didn't have an eight-yard sack."
Just as Hinshaw wasn't overly worried about Bray's 47-percent completion rate in preseason, he wasn't overly pleased with the 70-percent completion rate in the opener.
"There were some situations (vs. Montana) where he should've thrown the ball away but he had some sacks," the quarterbacks coach explained. "If you throw the ball away your percentage is going to go down but that's the right thing to do. Percentage isn't always the thing (that matters most) because you cost the team on three sacks where we failed to get the ball out."
As much as Hinshaw hates sacks, they are not No. 1 on his hit list. That distinction belongs to interceptions. The Vol aide would much rather see his quarterback throw the ball up into the stands than up for grabs. Bray had two passes picked off by Montana last weekend but each was nullified by penalty. Hinshaw says his QB easily could've completed a shorter, safer pass on each occasion.
"You can't have any fear at quarterback but you have to be smart," the coach said. "There are times when you have to check the ball down and don't force it. On those two throws that was the situation: You don't force the ball into coverage. Check down to something you can complete."
Bray has a bit of a gunslinger mentality, so convincing him to take the safer throw is no easy task. Head coach Derek Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney are acutely aware of this.
|Tennessee quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw observes.|
"Coach Dooley, Coach Chaney and myself are consistently telling him 'Throw to the check-down, throw to the check-down, throw to the check-down,'" Hinshaw said. "Not every throw is going to be there, so find your check-down, throw a completion and let's go to the next down."
Although he still takes a few more risks than the coaches would like, Bray shows signs of maturing as a college quarterback.
"I think he understands the role of the quarterback at Tennessee and the role of the quarterback in any offense a little bit better," Chaney said. "I think he assumes that seat a little better. Last year he didn't really know what it meant to step out there and play. He just played. Now I think he understands a little better."
Bray conceded in August that he feels pressure as a sophomore that he didn't feel as a freshman. That could be a good sign — indicating that he understands the enormity of his role. Hinshaw, however, doesn't want the word "pressure" in Bray's vocabulary.
"You can't worry about that kind of stuff," the Vol aide said. "You're a quarterback in the SEC. You take one play at a time and don't worry about anything but what you've got to do - get the ball to the playmakers, execute the offense and do your job. If you think like that, there won't be any pressure on you and you won't think about that kind of outside thing. You've got to take clutter and wash it away."
Regardless, Bray appears to be more serious and studious than he was as a happy-go-lucky rookie last fall. His position coach has noticed.
"He's growing up, which is what you've got to do as a quarterback," Hinshaw noted. "He did a lot of good things in the opener but there are some things he still needs to improve on, and he knows that. He needs to continue to grow up."