Tennessee sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray took the first step towards returning under center on Monday when the sophomore quarterback got the cast taken off his right hand. But that doesn’t mean he’ll play this Saturday when the Volunteers play at Arkansas.

“We don’t expect him to play,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I never have expected him to play this week.”

Bray has been sidelined since the Georgia game on Oct. 8 with a broken right thumb on his throwing hand.

 “Tyler will get his cast off today and will get evaluated,” Dooley said. “What does that mean? First of all, it means how is your strength to squeeze a ball? And it’s going to take a little time because it has been kind of locked off there to get the kind of range and motion back. Secondly and more importantly, how has the bone healed? We will X-ray it, evaluate it and then go from there.

“We have to look at the X-ray, feel his strength levels and if both of those things check out, which the likelihood is they won’t, and then we go to a CT-scan, which I think is the final determining factor. The pain is not the issue. The pain is what he can tolerate. The issue is the bone has to be healed, because we aren’t going to put him out there and the bone is almost there but it’s not. The bone has to be healed, he has to be able to tolerate the pain and he has to be able to perform. If he can’t go out there and throw it like he’s used to throwing it, then why play him?”

Bray was ranked among the top quarterbacks in the country in several passing categories through the Vols’ first five games, completing 65.9 percent of his throws (116-of-176) for 1,579 yards and 14 touchdowns with only two interceptions.

In the four games he has missed, UT quarterbacks Matt Simms and Justin Worley have combined to be just 52-of-107 (48.6 percent) for 628 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions, albeit against much better competition, including the nations’ top two defenses: LSU and Alabama.

Worley, a true freshman, replaced Simms in the fourth quarter against the Crimson Tide on Oct. 22 and started UT’s past two games at home against South Carolina and MTSU.

“He performed the way we hoped he would. We have confidence in Justin,” Dooley said. “I tell you we had it going into South Carolina. He just had first-game jitters. Now Justin’s challenge will be he is on the road, he’s playing an SEC team, a top-10 team. It will be a lot more adversity than he faced on Saturday night. But you have to get the first step before you can get the second. We will see how he handles it. He is still a true freshman and he is going to have to go on the road in a tough environment against a good football team.”

Lane running wild(cat)

With UT still trying to improve its running game, coaches used freshman tailback Marlin Lane in a wildcat package against the Blue Raiders.

Dooley said he was pleased with the results the Vols got with Lane taking direct snaps from center, calling it “a starting point,” but noting “it’s not going to solve our (running) problems.”

“I’ve always liked it, I have,” Dooley said. “I haven’t run it here just because I haven’t had a comfort level with the right guy running it. I think it’s a good way to take a few plays off the quarterback. If you don’t run your quarterback runs, the zone read stuff, it’s just a way to have that component in your offense and it helps, but it is rarely going to be the difference between winning and losing.”

How does the team’s second-leading rusher feel about the new formation?

“It doesn’t matter,” Lane said. “As long as I’m out there running it, I’m cool with it.”

M-I-Z-Z-S-E-C

After months of speculation, the Southeastern Conference officially announced Sunday that Missouri was leaving the Big 12 conference to join the SEC.

“We all knew it was coming,” Dooley said. “I don’t really have an opinion on it, and if I did it wouldn’t matter. I’ll worry about that in the spring. It’s a great academic institution, it really is. So it’s going to really enhance our academic reputation in the league.”