Tennessee's junior starting quarterback Tyler Bray opened the 2012 season with a statement.
In the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game vs. N.C. State on Friday, he threw for 29 completions, two passing touchdowns, and 333 yards gained. Sophomore backup quarterback Justin Worley said Bray's talent and leadership have had a great affect on the offense as a whole.
"Tyler goes out there and he plays phenomenally and it honestly comes natural to him," Worley said. "To see him throw to ten different receivers is awesome."
Worley said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney made a point to emphasize leadership during spring and summer practice. He said the difference in leadership between last year and this year has been significant.
"(Bray) has really embraced that and it's gathered the guys and we've thrown individual routes and just seeing him do that is a big step from where all of us were last year and where he was last year," Worley said. "Just seeing his leadership develop that makes a huge part in the way our offense runs."
As the second string quarterback, Worley is playing a difficult waiting game. After Bray's injury last season against Georgia, Worley was forced to step in as starting quarterback, starting three games and throwing for 604 yards. This year, there's always a chance it could happen again and his practice routine revolves around that knowledge.
"Last year was a wild ride," Worley said. "The first few weeks I was just along for the ride and then, after Tyler got hurt I knew I needed to start preparing better and I started practicing better and that carried into this year."
He said he can't prepare depending on each week's opponent, but must be ready to play against anyone.
"You have to prepare week in and week out and I prepare like I'm gonna be the starting quarterback and Tyler prepares like he's gonna be the starting quarterback."
Worley said that Bray's leadership skills is something that he's hoping to follow in as well. He said he just hopes to fall in line.
"Everybody's got room to improve and that's including me. I think leadership is gonna come along," Bray said. "It's definitely a lot better than it was last year and I have more confidence around the guys and being able to lead the offense, but I'm approaching it like I'm the starting quarterback."
As Worley and Bray continue to focus on leadership, it has trickled down and affected the confidence in their receivers as well. Head coach Derek Dooley said the trust the players have in Bray's leadership and experience is significant.
"He's gotten better because of his experience," Dooley said. "He has a lot of trust in the players around him. You look at guys like Vincent Dallas and Jacob Carter making a catch, even Ben Bartholemew had a couple of real big catches on third down. Tyler's confidence in the other players shows up and when you feel like you have a quarterback who believes in you, you tend to perform better."
Bray's confidence in his ability to connect with his receivers during the N.C. State game was unwavering. He said he does his best not to be effected under pressure.
"I'm from California," Bray said. "I never get effected, or I try not to."
Head coach Derek Dooley noticed a change in ball management as well. Dooley said he was especially impressed with Bray's control of the ball in the red area.
"Really proud of Tyler's management in the throwing game," Dooley said. "He took care of the football."
Looking forward, Dooley is hopeful that his talent will continue to increase throughout the season. The N.C. State game served as an excellent indicator and Dooley said the poise Bray demonstrated throughout fall camp and during the offseason has paid off on the field.
"You never saw Tyler get frustrated or effected like maybe you saw last season or the year before when he was young," Dooley said. "I just think it is his level of growth, maturity and experience. He just kept playing."