By Alex Norman
Million dollar arm… fifty cent head.
You’ve probably heard that line, or something similar to describe former Tennessee Vols quarterback Tyler Bray.
The guy might have more talent than any quarterback coming out of college this past season, but he wasn’t selected in the NFL draft. He has the size (6-6, 230 pounds) and the arm strength that coaches covet. But not enough for them to spend a draft pick.
Bray’s teammates did however… wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson went in the first round to the Minnesota Vikings. Wide receiver Justin Hunter was picked in the second round by the Tennessee Titans. Tight end Mychal Rivera heard his name called when he Oakland Raiders grabbed him in the sixth round.
But the player responsible for getting them the football wasn’t considered worthy of the same honor.
So the question brings with it some complicated answers…
Why was Tyler Bray, a player projected to go in the first round prior to the 2012 season, forced to go the free agent route?
Let’s delve into the reasoning, but not rank the reasons shall we?
Bray was done no favors by the state of flux known as the Tennessee coaching situation during his three years at UT. He committed to play for Lane Kiffin, and his entire family moved to Knoxville in January 2010 from Kingsburg, California. His bags weren’t even unpacked when Kiffin stunned the college football world by leaving Tennessee for the Southern California job.
The Vols job was offered to a few different coaches, and it appeared that former Vols offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe would return, but a deal fell through between Cutcliffe and Tennessee officials. Eventually the Vols settled for Louisiana Tech head coach Derek Dooley, a guy with an impressive pedigree, but limited success.
Bray and Dooley never meshed. Bray needed leadership, direction and discipline. Dooley gave him none of those things. Whenever Bray made mistakes, both on and off the field, Dooley’s punishment was minimal at best. Why shouldn’t Bray scream at coaches and teammates on the sideline? Why should Bray change his ways if he knew there would be no consequences?
On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that Bray’s beer bottling throwing incident, which involved local law enforcement, would have gone by without a peep from Tennessee coaches had Cutcliffe been in charge. If Cutcliffe has accepted the Vols coaching job, Bray either would have grown up, or been kicked off the team and forced to mature someplace else. Either way the odds are Bray would be in a better situation than he is in at the moment.
This isn’t to say that Bray holds no responsibility. His faults are his own. The throat slashing directed towards the North Carolina sideline in the 2010 Music City Bowl was foolish and stupid. Bray’s lack of dedication to the film room or the weight room kept him from becoming one of the elite quarterbacks in the SEC.
When Bray reportedly told teammates that he didn’t want to play in a “lesser” bowl game before and after Tennessee lost to Kentucky for the first time in more than a quarter century, it was the surest sign that leadership wasn’t his strong suit. And that’s the thing about playing quarterback. You have to be a leader when in that position. Bray is not a verbal leader or a quiet leader, and that’s a serious issue with NFL coaches.
Bray spent the past few months meeting with coaches and working out. His aloof nature obviously did not translate well. Neither did the “whiteboard” exercises, which one NFL scout reportedly told his general manager was “the worst he had ever seen.”
Last season he threw for 3612 yards and 34 touchdowns, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. During his college career Bray threw for 7444 yards and 69 touchdowns.
But those stats don’t tell the story of Tyler Bray. He is an immature young man at the age of 21. Many of us were immature at that age as well, but few of us were ever trying to get an NFL team to commit millions of dollars to us at the same time.
Bray will still get his shot at the NFL, signing a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Their roster isn’t exactly filled with Mannings and Bradys either. To earn the third quarterback spot, Bray would likely have to beat out Ricky Stanzi and Alex Tanney.
There is no more safety net for Tyler Bray… no one will coddle him or make excuses.
Tyler Bray’s opportunity is here.
Even if it isn’t the opportunity he expected.