With Tennessee desperate to get a win in the conference and Vanderbilt vying for a signature win in their 2011 season the Volunteers are hoping to have an ace in the hole.
Their ace — Tyler Bray, but even with the cast off his throwing hand and returning to the practice field things are still very much in doubt as to whether Bray will return for Saturday’s game with the Commodores.
“He worked his way back,” coach Derek Dooley said after Tuesday’s practice. “He didn’t take all the reps. He isn’t close to where he was before he got injured, not even close. I would still say the same thing that I said in the press conference, which is he is questionable.”
During the early viewing periods at Haslam Field it was evident that Bray was struggling with taking snaps under center, but Dooley said that it won’t be a problem for the running game if Bray is able to go. Rather than playing from under center Bray will take shotgun snaps in the pistol formation.
“We can just go out of the gun and do the same things,” Dooley said. “You can get in the pistol and do the exact same stuff. It doesn’t change a thing.”
The question now becomes where do you draw the line between getting your best player back on the field and risking further injury putting that player on the field too soon.
“I don’t think it is about protection,” Dooley said. “I think it is more about production. Do I think he can move us down the field and score touchdowns? If I don’t then he is not going to play and if I do we will give it a shot.
“If he is struggling out there then we will pull him out. The doctors have cleared him. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a risk. There is always a risk, but the issue is can you execute the pass plays?”
Bray’s struggles also could have to do with the fact that he hasn’t played football in five weeks, but one thing is still certain Bray’s thumb isn’t completely healed and may not be in time for Saturday’s game.
“You have to be able to throw and deliver the ball,” Dooley said. “He has to work his way back. The guy hasn’t been able to play ball in five weeks and he has a broken thumb that he is rehabbing.
“He has 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.”
While Dooley isn’t as optimistic as some in the Volunteers camp, Bray has been steady in his confidence and still won’t waiver, not even to his head coach.
“I watch him play and then I ask him how he feels, but he is like y’all — ‘I’m ready for Arkansas,’ Dooley said. “No you are not. You can’t even throw. He lives in the same world y’all live in.
“The reality is he is questionable for the game and he is not even close to where he was five weeks ago.”
Bray left the field with ice on the right hand following practice, but he will have another go at things Wednesday when the Vols hit the practice field at 9 a.m.