KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tyler Bray believes that every rookie has something to prove.
He may have more than most.
The former Tennessee quarterback left school a year early hoping he’d be chosen highly in the draft, given the relatively weak collection of college signal-callers coming out this year. Instead, every team passed on him over the course of seven agonizing rounds
Once the draft ended, his phone suddenly lit up with teams trying to sign him as a free agent, and Bray settled on joining new coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s not your choice. I mean, you’re not in the draft room picking,” Bray said after a workout during the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp, which wrapped up Sunday. “So you just wait around, and if you don’t get drafted, you pick up the phone, try to find a team.
“I found a team here in Kansas City.”
One where he thinks he can thrive.
The Chiefs traded their second-round pick and a conditional choice in next year’s draft to acquire Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. They also signed Chase Daniel as a free agent, and still have former fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi on the roster.
But outside of Smith, their unquestioned starter, everything appears to be up in the air, and that means Bray — with all the physical tools — could have a shot at a backup job.
“He just needs to continue to improve. That’s what he needs to do,” said Reid, who earned a reputation as being a “quarterback whisperer” during his days with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He needs to learn the offense, handle it the right way and do the right things. He understands that,” Reid said. “He knows the places he made mistakes at Tennessee.”
Ah, there’s the rub.
Despite putting up the kind of numbers that get quarterbacks with big arms drafted — he threw for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns as a junior — Bray watched his stock dive amid questions about his maturity, work ethic and character.
When things would go poorly for the Vols, Bray’s body language tended to sag. He admitted that he wasn’t always the most prepared during interviews leading up to the draft, and a series of minor off-the-field incidents that included a vandalism charge gave teams reason to pause.
“I made a lot of mistakes at Tennessee, a lot of off-the-field issues,” Bray confided, “and that had a lot to do with it.”
When asked about the specific incidents, Bray said he’s moved beyond them: “They were just stupid mistakes,” he added. “I’m here now, I’m a free agent and that’s OK with me.”
One thing that was never questioned much was Bray’s physical attributes.
He stands out in a yellow No. 9 jersey at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, and over the course of three days at the Chiefs’ practice facility, he showcased that strong arm on a series of deep throws that caught the attention of his fellow rookies and members of the front office.
Even though he left Tennessee with a year of eligibility remaining, Bray still set a school record for most 400-yard passing games (400) and once threw for 530 yards in a game against Troy, the second-best performance in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
Still, the learning curve in the NFL is a steep one.
For one thing, Bray mostly used hand signals and ran a no-huddle offense with the Vols, so rounding up his teammates and relaying plays in the huddle feels a bit strange. The playbook is new, and he hasn’t really had to start making checks and adjustments at the line of scrimmage yet — those things will happen down the road, provided the Chiefs keep him around.
Then there’s the speed of things in the NFL, and not just on the field. Meetings go quicker, practices move at a faster tempo, and sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep up.
“Everything is a little more difficult, a little more hurried than I was used to,” Bray said. “I could tell by the first couple snaps that this was way different.”
The Chiefs move from rookie minicamp right into organized team activities, and Tuesday will be the first chance for Bray to practice with Smith and the rest of the Chiefs’ veterans.
“Every rookie in the draft is going to have to prove something,” Bray said. “I mean, most of us weren’t going to come in and start. So I’m just going to come in, battle, try to learn from Alex — he’s a veteran quarterback, and I can learn a lot from him.”
Does he have any regrets about leaving school early?
“I’m here now,” Bray said. “Just trying to move forward.”