Mark Wiedmer: Tyler Bray mess troubling for Vols

Mark Wiedmer: Tyler Bray mess troubling for Vols

July 27th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee quarteback Tyler Bray attends the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days in Hoover, Ala.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

When you think about it, this notion that Tennessee junior quarterback Tyler Bray had finally locked down his passing touch was always too good to be true.

You just don't misfire on 22 of 38 passes against Kentucky's woeful Wildcats after enduring a 5-for-30 Orange-White performance the spring before and always know where you're throwing the football.

Or beer bottles and golf balls, for that matter.

So even though it was exciting to find a potential silver lining in Bray's apparent act of vandalism last weekend at his former apartment complex - Bray and his roommate reportedly were throwing beer bottles and golf balls at a parked car's windshield - it's apparently not true that he was aiming for the car.

"He missed the trash can," UT coach Derek Dooley told the 46th annual UT All-Sports Picnic in Nashville on Thursday. "Obviously, he needs to work on his accuracy."

Dang. And Volniacs everywhere had begun to believe that all the junior QB had to do to lead them to victory this fall was to pretend the football's a beer bottle, wide receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter are windshields and ... Presto, change-O, Touchdown Tennessee!!!

OK, so anyone passing judgement on Bray's behavior or Dooley's ditzy comments will likely do so through the tinted glasses of their favorite Southeastern Conference football team.

Those with Big Orange specs will shrug this off as boys will be boys. Those of a different tint will roll their eyes and mutter, "What a bunch of thugs."

Yet as long as Bray really has apologized and promised to pay for the damages to the car he apparently used for passing practice, that's probably where this segment of Vols Gone Wild should end.

Especially since Dooley has also promised to handle the matter internally, which means Bray will probably be running laps tonight and every other Friday night until the Aug. 31 season opener against North Carolina State inside the Georgia Dome.

But neither Bray's actions nor Dooley's words will necessarily bring confidence to the Big Orange Nation as it anxiously waits to see if their third-year coach can post his first winning season.

Dooley may really believe that the SEC, "Won't have Tennessee to kick around any more," but he also told the league's media last week that Bray had become so much more mature and focused.

"You have to live as the quarterback at Tennessee," Dooley said. "If your lifestyle is not reflecting that, then it's going to be hard to go out and perform to your best."

Two days later, Bray couldn't perform the task of tossing beer bottles and golf balls from a balcony well enough to hit a trash can.

And that was without South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Alabama's Damion Square baring down on him.

Makes you wonder just how immature Bray has been his first two years in Knoxville that Dooley would also tell the SEC's media, "I've seen a lot of growth in Tyler. He's the face of our offense."

On one level, any parent somewhat understands what Dooley termed "silly prepubescent behavior."

He went on to add, "It's just part of being a parent and a coach. You handle it, and hopefully you learn and move on. But it's silly behavior."

Yet it's also the same silly behavior that Bray displayed his freshman season in the Music City Bowl when he executed the "slashed throat" gesture after tossing a touchdown against North Carolina.

Two years later you can't blame such actions on immaturity and inexperience. It goes deeper. Despite the 35 passes he's thrown in just 16 games - hey, he's not always off target - it makes you wonder if Bray can ever become the leader the Vols need to turn the corner.

As for UT's Wednesday statement - "Tyler was neither arrested nor evicted. And we have no further comment on the matter" - if he's already admitted guilt, does it really matter if he was arrested or convicted?

Even worse, a second act of vandalism involving a car at the apartment complex occurred Monday afternoon. There were no eyewitnesses but UT needs to do everything it can to make sure its quarterback didn't participate.

If Dooley really believes in all he espouses about responsibility and character, he'll make the face of his offense face the music by suspending Bray for the first half of the N.C. State game on August 31.

If the Vols are any good, they'll stay close enough for the Bray to save the day.

If not, the Big Orange Nation may not have Dooley to kick around any more by the end of the season.