Can you hear me now?

Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole used to complain that he couldn't hear his soft-spoken quarterback in the huddle. These days he's hearing him loud and clear.

When several Vols got a little chatty during a huddle in last Saturday's game with Ole Miss, Tyler Bray got downright ... well ... vocal.

Here's the way Poole remembers it:

"In the game this past Saturday guys were talking about another play, and he's like, 'Hey guys, just shut up and let's get to the next play.'

"I kind of had a smirk on my face, thinking, 'Wow! That's a big step for you ... actually saying something to somebody. Older guys like G (Gerald) Jones and Denarius (Moore) like that, too. They appreciate him stepping up and being the quarterback he can be."

Bray is such a mild-mannered, low-key personality that there were understandable concerns earlier this fall regarding his ability to command a huddle and guide an offensive unit. Those concerns now appear moot.

"He's definitely way more commanding," Poole said. "At first he wouldn't say anything. He'd be quiet and let guys do their thing. Now he's stepping up as a leader. I love to see that in him because, with the type of talent he brings to the table as a quarterback, he needs those type of communication skills to (order) guys around."

Every team needs a forceful leader who can be an extension of the coach on the field. Bray gradually appears to be growing into this role.

"He's definitely doing that," Poole said. "He has a great future. He's doing great things right now and, hopefully, he can do more."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing Bray has done this season is transform head man Derek Dooley from a run-first coach into a pass-first coach. The Vols averaged 220.4 passing yards and 1.25 passing touchdowns per outing in Games 1 through 8. In the two games since Bray ascended to the starting QB job, Tennessee has averaged 324.0 passing yards and 4.0 passing TDs per game.

Dooley says he actually started modifying his run-first approach during the open date that preceded Game 7 vs. Alabama.

"I think there was a shift then," he said. "We have some senior perimeter guys (wideouts Jones and Moore, plus tight end Luke Stocker), and we've got to get them to do it. I felt like we needed to shift a little bit philosophically. We did it against Bama and we saw some good things. Then we did it some more against South Carolina and saw a lot of encouraging things.

"That's not to say we're not going to run the ball. We need to, and we need to do it with more consistency. But we had three seniors guys - Denarius, Luke and Gerald - who have been productive in games, and all of these young'ns around 'em, so we'd better shape it to them a little bit more."

After throwing the ball 235 times in Games 1-8, an average of 29.4 passes per game, the Vols have thrown it 73 times in the past two games, an average of 36.5 passes per game. And, after completing 19 passes of 20 yards or more in Games 1-8, the Vols have completed 11 throws of 20 more in the past two games alone.

Clearly, the Big Orange is much more reliant on the passing attack in November than it was in September and October.

"Certainly," Dooley said, "when Tyler went in, it made it even more pronounced because that's his strength."

Bray was named co-SEC Freshman of the Week after completing 18 of 34 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday vs. Ole Miss. His coach wasn't surprised.

"I think he's playing the way we expected him to play," Dooley said. "He struggled in a lot of things the other day but what he does is, he has an ability to make plays that change the game. When you're able to do that, it kind of masks some of your other issues....

"I'm glad he's playing the way we hoped he would play but I don't think it surprised anybody."

One thing that should surprise people is the fact Bray hasn't thrown an interception since his first attempt in Game 8 at South Carolina was returned for a pick-six. He now has thrown 81 consecutive passes without being intercepted. That's impressive, especially for a raw rookie with a lot of arm and a lot of confidence.

"I don't see him as a risk-taker," Dooley said. "I think his risks are calculated. He doesn't just maniacally throw the ball somewhere, being a gunslinger. His throws that look risky are throws he can make - and he knows he can make - and he tries to place the ball in the least risky position for the receiver to catch it ... or it's incomplete."


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