KNOXVILLE – Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray are regularly compared for what they can do on the field, but the two are also friends off of it.
You can thank the Mannings for that. Bray and Murray came together as counselors in July at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana. The four-day event is annually led by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, but top-tier college quarterbacks are brought in to serve as counselors and advisers to the campers.
Bray and Murray were among those selected in 2012. The two forged a friendship that they’re not putting off even with an important head-to-head matchup coming on Saturday.
“We talked last night actually,” Bray said. “We were talking a little bit about (Saturday’s game). We talked about how we want to put on a show. We both missed some throws last year.”
Bray went on to say that most of the their conversations stray away from football-related topics, but that he does have immense respect for Georgia’s redshirt junior starting quarterback.
“He’s a great player,” Bray said. "He’s going to put the ball in the right place and he’s going to put the offense in the right play."
This will be the third matchup between Bray and Murray, though Bray will hope this will be his first chance to play four quarters against the Bulldogs. Bray came on in relief of Matt Simms in 2010 and completed 8-of-12 passes for 81 yards in Georgia’s 41-14 win. Murray, a first-year starter that season, completed 17-of-25 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
Bray started in the Vols’ 20-12 loss to the Bulldogs in 2011, but left the game in the fourth quarter after breaking his right thumb. He finished the game 18-of-33 passing for 251 yards, while Murray was 15-of-25 passing for 227 yards.
They’re the top two in the SEC in passing yardage and touchdowns, with Bray holding the slight edge in both categories. The two opposing coaches have already exchanged compliments on the quarterbacks.
"He is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Dooley said of Murray. “He has a very strong arm and a lot of snaps under his belt. You can just see him triggering the ball a lot quicker than he ever has, he's a lot more accurate than he has been, and that just comes with experience."
Georgia coach Mark Richt told reporters in Athens on Tuesday that Bray is among the most talented passers he has ever seen.
Bohannon moving up: Jack linebacker Willie Bohannon got his first start of the season against Akron in place of Jacques Smith. The Jack linebacker position is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
Dooley said Bohannon, a senior, is in the mix to keep starting there as the season progresses.
“Consistency, that’s it,” Dooley said when asked what earned him more playing time. “He’s consistent, you know what you’re going to get when you put him in the game. Guys that show that level of consistency and dependability are going to play.”
Mitchell a two-way threat for Georgia: Georgia wide receiver/cornerback Malcolm Mitchell has been working primarily with the offense this week for the Bulldogs. He started the first four games of the year at corner with the Bulldogs missing several defenders due to suspension.
It appears he will play a heavy role on offense against Tennessee on Saturday. As a freshman in 2011, he caught three passes for 126 yards, including one reception for 71 yards, against Tennessee.
“He’s got the same skills sets at cornerback and receiver,” Dooley said. “He’s fast, he’s a playmaker, he’s a return guy that can hurt you. I think it says a lot about him that he can play two positions on both sides of the ball.”
Practice observations: A few observations from Tennessee’s open portion of practice Tuesday:
• Freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil was getting some work with the first-team defense in the nickel package. He’s played sparingly this season, but he could get his chance Saturday.
• Rajion Neal worked with the starters at running back, and Marlin Lane was the second back to get snaps. Freshman Quenshaun Watson worked with the second team.
• Pass protection, breaking tackles and ball security were the main points of emphasis for the running backs during position-group drills.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.