Dear Tyler Bray,
Just writing to ask that you use your off week wisely. Certainly it's tempting to blow off a little steam this time of year. But you already did that back in the summer, didn't you? So let's forget about trying to hit a dumpster with a beer bottle while riding a jet ski, shall we?
Besides, in case you haven't realized it, your college career is basically two-thirds over. And that's if you come back for your senior year. But more on that later.
So for now, try to buckle down in the film room, focus on the little things every day in practice -- like holding onto the football -- eat well and sleep at least eight hours every night.
With road games at Mississippi State and South Carolina and a home contest with top-ranked Alabama all staring you in the face before Halloween, you're going to need all the preparation and rest you can get.
Why the concern, you might ask.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, Tyler, you're a pretty big deal in these parts. For 12 weekends every autumn -- and, hopefully, a bowl game afterward -- at least half the Volunteer State's citizens hang on everything you do, good and bad.
Given half a reason, some of those fans would name their children after you. Or have you ever wondered where all those 15-year-old boys named Peyton came from?
Yet nearly halfway through your third season, you haven't delivered the goods even once against the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference. Not once.
Right now, your only significant victories for Tennessee have come in a home game against Big East member Cincinnati last season and this year's opening win against North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome.
Sure, you've thrown for more than 5,000 yards since you arrived from California in the winter of 2010. You've tossed 49 touchdown passes, hit nearly 60 percent of your throws and made enough preseason quarterback award watch lists to buy a nice suit rather than rent one.
And we all know you just threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns against the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs. But your team lost, and at least part of the reason for that defeat was the three interceptions and one fumble you surrendered.
Don't misunderstand. You've got one of the top four or five arms in college football. The football literally sings when exiting your right hand. Probably half the quarterbacks in the National Football League would trade their second home and third foreign car to be able to sling it like you.
But if the ability to pass it long and straight and fast was the No. 1 requirement of an NFL QB, Brian Sipe wouldn't have won an NFL MVP award in 1980 and Trent Dilfer wouldn't have won a Super Bowl ring 20 years later.
Smarts and discipline and toughness count at least as much as a golden arm at the next level, and so far you're batting 1-for-4 in those categories.
It could be argued that at least some of this isn't your fault. While it seemed like a good idea at the time when Coach Dooley elected to keep you on the bench against SEC giants Alabama, Georgia and LSU your freshman year, one could now make the case that it created a false sense of security and confidence in you.
Instead of being grateful that your mistakes didn't cost you victories, you seemed to embrace the notion that your raw talent could always carry the day. You didn't need to study video. You didn't need deft footwork. You didn't need to audible into the perfect running play for a weakside blitz, because, hey, you'd been winging it and flinging it all your life to pretty fair results.
If it worked against Memphis and Ole Miss, it would surely work against the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals, wouldn't it? Well, wouldn't it?
Instead, you'll enter the Alabama game as a junior having never faced the Tide. And no matter what new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri tells you about his old employer that week, Bama boss Nick Saban is sure to send some blitz package your way that Sunseri's never seen before.
We know you never thought you'd be in this position. You figured you'd pass the Vols into the top 10 by now, have draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay on speed dial and find a tattoo artist capable of etching the Heisman Trophy into your backside beneath your super-sized name.
And if you light up the Southern skies these next few weeks with TDs and yards and highlight videos, you'll surely have all the reasons you'll need to turn pro, beginning with the fact that your four best receivers -- Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera -- are all likely off to "the league" next season either by graduation (Rivera and Rogers) or early entry.
But judging from these first five games, you're nowhere near ready for the NFL. You need to be stronger, tougher, more mobile and much wiser.
Not to be cruel, Tyler, but when this season began you were perceived to be the best reason for hope. Five games and two very big SEC losses later, a lot of people are starting to wonder if you're the solution or the problem.
Don't become the problem. Become the solution. Hit the weights and the film room and the practice field from this day forward as if your professional life depended on it. Because sooner or later, it will.
But until that time, such hard work will also surely help the Volunteers, which is more than enough for you to worry about at the moment.
An Interested Observer
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...