KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray has a rocket arm and a tall frame (6 feet 6, 215 pounds) and a skill set that NFL teams tend to dream about in a quarterback.
Yet when the NFL draft came and went last month, Bray’s name went unannounced by commissioner Roger Goodell.
Bray, who forfeited his senior year to come out early, waited and waited for a phone call that never came.
And Bray has a strong suspicion why.
“I made a lot of mistakes at Tennessee,” Bray said after the first day of the Chiefs’ three-day rookie camp Friday.
“I had a lot of off-the-field issues and I think that had something to do with it.”
Asked to elaborate, Bray understandably seemed anxious to simply move on.
“Just making stupid mistakes,” Bray said. “I’m here now, I’m a free-agent and I’m ready to play football.”
But those “stupid mistakes” no doubt haunt Bray to some degree.
Bray’s trouble started early in 2012 when he and his roommate, after a night of drinking, were accused of throwing golf balls and beer bottles at a car in the parking lot of their apartment near campus, causing considerable damage to the vehicle.
Another tenant from the apartment complex spotted Bray in the act and identified him to the vehicle’s owner. Eventually the vehicle’s owner agreed not to press charges when Bray agreed to pay for all the damages.
Then last summer, Bray got in trouble again when he was accused of playing “chicken” with another jet skier on a Tennessee lake. Bray apparently came so close to hitting another jet ski driver that he caused that jet ski to tip over, spilling its two occupants into the water.
Bray then returned and sprayed water on the occupants with his jet ski.
Bray was charged with reckless operation of a personal watercraft – a misdemeanor — and could have faced six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
In a plea agreement, though, Bray did not have to plead guilty and was ordered to perform several community –service functions.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid was aware of Bray’s skirmishes with the law.
“He knows the mistakes he made at Tennessee,” Reid said, “but he also knows he’s a pretty good football player.”
And that’s the Bray the Chiefs are most interested in, the Bray that at times could look like a dominant college quarterback.
Yet Reid expects Bray to be a work in progress.
“It’s important he learns our system and takes a positive step forward,” Reid said. “Just don’t take a negative step back.”
Bray will have to be on good behavior if he hopes to have a shot at cracking the Chiefs’ roster, already filled with starter Alex Smith at quarterback and Chase Daniel as the backup.
“I think I did OK today,” Bray said. “Right now it’s all about learning new plays and a new system. It’s a little more difficult than what I was used to at Tennessee.”
The primary difference, other than the immense jump in level of talent around him, is having to huddle and use his voice.
“Just spitting out the play call in the huddle is way different,” he said. “We did no-huddle hand signals at Tennessee. So now I got to hear the play call (through an earpiece) and relate that to the huddle.
“I could tell from the first couple of snaps it was way different.”
At Tennessee, Bray at times had scouts drooling, especially after his junior year when he completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,612 yards. He also threw 34 touchdowns and was intercepted only 12 times.
All this while playing for a Tennessee team that endured numerous injuries on offense, and lacked a quality offensive line.
Bray’s big junior year was enough to convince those around him that he was a lock to get drafted. So, Bray came out early.
And if Bray had to do it all over again, would he have returned to Tennessee for his senior year?
“Who knows?” he said. “I’m here now.”
Bray is here with the Chiefs and perhaps with something to prove to every NFL team, including the Chiefs, that didn’t draft him.
“Oh, yeah, but I knew I would have to prove myself and earn my way no matter if I got drafted or not,” he said.
Sitting and waiting through three days of the NFL draft wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, though.
“It’s not your choice,” he said. “You wait around on draft day and you don’t get picked. (But) you pick up the phone and you find a place.”
The Chiefs had interest in Bray after interviewing him at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. And as it turns out, the interest was mutual.
“They have a great system here and a great staff,” he said. “That is what attracted me.
“I just want to come in here and learn what I can from Alex (Smith). Today was a good first day and we’ll go from there.”