As Tennessee begins a regular-season playoff in its final two games in hopes to become bowl eligible for the third consecutive year, they may have gotten a boost.

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray practiced Tuesday for the first time since fracturing his thumb Oct. 8 against Georgia.

“He worked his way back,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “He didn’t take all the reps. He’s not even close to what he was before he got injured. Not even close.”

Bray had his cast removed Nov. 7, but was unavailable for Tennessee’s 49-7 loss at Arkansas.

Dooley called Bray’s status “questionable” Monday when he announced Bray would practice that week. It is still not decided as to whether Bray will play against Vanderbilt this Saturday or not.

“The guy hadn’t played ball in five weeks and he’s got a broken thumb that he’s rehabbing,” Dooley said.

“We’ve talked about it, but probably the reality is if he’s ready to go, we’d be crazy not to at least give him a shot, given the inconsistency we have had at that position.”

Senior Matt Simms took over for Bray against No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, but then true freshman Justin Worley replaced him as the starter for the past three games.

The two have combined for 866 yards, six interceptions and just one touchdown.

Sitting at 4-6, and 0-6 in SEC play, Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt Saturday at 7 p.m. (TV: ESPNU), then finishes the regular season at Kentucky Nov. 26. The Vols haven’t failed to reach six wins since the 2008 season, and have only failed to reach that mark three times in the past 23 years. The Vols started 3-2 with Bray under center.

Before his injury, Bray was among the top of college football’s best quarterbacks. He had thrown for 1,579 yards and 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Before the Georgia game, he recorded 10 straight games with at least two passing touchdowns, breaking Peyton Manning’s record of seven.

“It’ll be kind of overwhelming because that’s the guy we’re used to playing with,” freshman running back Marlin Lane said of Bray’s possible return. “That’s the guy that knows this offense, that’s confident with everybody, kind of what everybody’s used to. Having him back there will be a tad bit different. He’ll be more settled in. He’ll know what to look for in the reads... It would be great for us having him back.”

After Tuesday’s practice, junior receiver Zach Rogers was pleased with Bray.

“He looked pretty good,” Rogers said. “It was good to see him back out here. He’s just got to get back into to it, get the rhythm back and we’ll be good to go.”

Despite the likely boost to the offense Bray would provide, Dooley still wants to be cautious and patient in getting him back into a game setting.
“He has 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,” Dooley said. “It’s going to take some time. It’s like everything around here. We want immediate fixes. His thumb is not fixed. You don’t just put magic serum on it and he can go throw like he did five weeks ago. It will come. I don’t know if it will be this week. I know he won’t be as good as he was this week. I know that for a fact, if he plays at all.
“You can’t be in a cast for a month and then come out of a cast and say you’re good,” Dooley said. “We live in ‘lala land.’ (Bray) lives in ‘lala land.’ I’m the only guy that has a sense of reality in this whole organization.”