Wiedmer: Bray must mature to make it in the NFL

Wiedmer: Bray must mature to make it in the NFL

April 29th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray looks for a receiver.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Give Tyler Bray credit. He's consistent. The former Tennessee quarterback lost none of his overconfidence bordering on arrogance wrapped in stupidity as he awaited last weekend's NFL Draft.

Despite numerous questions about his maturity, judgment and focus as the draft approached, he was credited with the following quote during the NFL combine in February:

"[Having played in the SEC], I don't feel it's going to be a big jump to the NFL."

This is the same SEC whose top three teams last season -- Alabama, Georgia and Florida -- intercepted Bray seven times. And good as those programs were, none of them, if given a chance, could beat the worst team in the NFL last autumn, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Perhaps that's why one unnamed NFL scout reportedly told the Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey that Bray's whiteboard interview concerning Xs and Os was, "the worst he'd seen."

For those of us who covered Bray at UT for three years, that's not a major shock. There were times when the California Kid appeared to revel in what he didn't know, or didn't care to learn as it pertained to the game's finer points. Just wing it and sling it, details be darned.

What's shocking, but possibly in a good way for the sake of the game going forward, is that this time the NFL took notice. Ignoring Bray's 59 mph passing skills (reportedly the Combine's best), his coveted 6-foot-6, 232-pound frame and SEC lineage, not a single NFL team drafted him.

The league selected 11 quarterbacks over three days -- including four in the seventh and final round -- yet ignored Bray, who threw for 34 TDs and just 12 interceptions last season, numbers that would almost assuredly have gotten any other SEC quarterback taken.

Then again, no other SEC quarterback spent the summer before his junior season cracking windshields of cars in an apartment complex parking lot by throwing beer bottles that somehow sailed past a dumpster.

Nor was any other SEC QB cited for "hot dogging" on a Jet Ski, as Bray was for a mid-summer incident where he reportedly played "Chicken," causing another Jet Ski to overturn.

A defensive end or wide receiver prospect can possibly get away with that. But a quarterback who's expected to become the face of the team, its hardest worker, its most solid citizen, needs to at least act the part.

So while quarterbacks Brad Sorensen (Southern Utah), Zac Dysert (Miami of Ohio), B.J. Daniels (South Florida) and Sean Renfree (Duke) all had their names called in Saturday's seventh and final round, Bray did not.

And while he reportedly has since signed to a free agent contract, he won't get to face the woeful Chiefs, because they're the team that supposedly has taken a chance on him. Of course, that also means he won't have to face former teammate Eric Berry, which is always a good thing for any quarterback.

Still, given Bray's natural skills, his inability to persuade at least one NFL team to draft him is a five-alarm wake-up call to grow up, to put his childish behavior behind him, to finally grasp that quarterback really is unlike any other position on the field, that back tattoos and 2 a.m. beers with the bros don't instill respect from teammates nearly as much as film study, hard work and discipline.

Or as ESPN analyst Todd McShay dutifully noted concerning Bray before the draft: "There are a lot of concerns and issues there in terms of maturity and work ethic and doing all the little things you have to do as a quarterback mentally."

Not that Bray was the only former Vol whose past at least momentarily toughened his future. Ex-UT receiver Da'Rick Rogers -- booted from the Vols just before last season -- also went undrafted, then signed a free agent deal with Buffalo.

Given that Rogers has often been compared to former UT-Chattanooga Moc and NFL great Terrell Owens, there's some irony that Bills GM Buddy Nix formerly coached TO at UTC, then brought him to the Bills late in his career.

As a group, of course, UT did well in this draft. Wideouts Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota) and Justin Hunter (Tennessee Titans) went in the first two rounds. Offensive lineman Dallas Thomas went to Miami in the third and tight end Mychal Rivera went to his home state Oakland Raiders in the sixth.

A cute side story on Rivera: Police were called to the family's California home because they were making so much noise after his name was announced. Rivera later posed with the officers, then posted the photo on the Internet.

At least one other Vol who could make it may be fullback Ben Bartholomew, the devastating blocker who signed a free agent deal with New England.

But it's Bray who has become almost as big a story by not being drafted as his four former teammates who were. The question now becomes whether he'll finally behave like the best quarterback in UT history -- Peyton Manning. Or if he'll continue to act like the knucklehead chosen after Manning in the 1998 draft -- Ryan Leaf.

Either way, much like the draft itself, the clock is now ticking on Bray's career.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.