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Climer: Tennessee Vols' Tyler Bray isn't ready for NFL

12:22 PM, Nov 23, 2012   |    comments
  • Courtesy: Associated Press
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Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean

Tyler Bray is brushing off questions about his plans for next year.

Asked earlier this week if he planned to return to Tennessee for his senior season or enter the NFL draft, Bray said: "We play Kentucky on Saturday. That's all I'm worried about."

A word of advice: Assuming Tennessee's next coach doesn't install the wishbone, stay in school. You're not ready for the NFL.

If a quarterback is fully prepared to make this kind of leap, he doesn't get benched in the first half of a game against Vanderbilt this late in his junior season. And that's precisely what happened to Bray on Saturday.

Sure, some NFL team would spend a draft pick on Bray, probably in the fourth round or so. His talent is undeniable. So, too, are his immaturity and questionable leadership skills. Nobody is going to throw millions in guaranteed money at him until he proves he is committed to the game.

The ratings for Bray are all over the board. Some consider him the fourth-best quarterback prospect out there, behind the consensus top three of Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson. Others see him no better than No. 9 among quarterbacks who could be available in the 2013 draft.

What will Bray do? It's impossible to predict because his decision-making -- both on and off the field -- is so haphazard.

If the majority of UT fans get their wish and Jon Gruden is hired as coach, Bray would be foolish to leave. Why pass on the opportunity to apprentice under one of football's true quarterback gurus for a year?

But if it's not Gruden, Bray very well may bolt for the NFL, trusting that his big arm is the ticket to a big paycheck. For whatever reason, he never has seemed to buy into the college game.

While Bray may or may not return, Vols wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson already appear to have one foot in the NFL draft. Most predictions have both as second-round picks.

Hunter's season reminds me of the way Jamal Lewis played in 1999. Coming off an ACL injury the previous year and with the NFL draft firmly in his sights, Lewis spent most of his junior season trying to avoid injury. It worked out for him; he was the fifth overall draft pick.

As for Patterson, he is a work in progress. He still doesn't grasp pass coverage concepts, and his failure to adjust pass routes against changing defensive schemes sometimes leaves Bray guessing exactly what he's going to do.

But with his size, speed and maneuverability, Patterson is impossible to ignore for NFL scouts. He can break in as a kick returner while learning the pro game.

Back to Bray: Unlike the wide receiver position, NFL teams do not spend high draft picks on quarterbacks who require extensive on-the-job training. And right now, Bray needs lots of work.

This season has been a mixed bag. In a stretch of games against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama, Bray completed barely half of his passes and threw six interceptions compared to four touchdowns.

After the Alabama game, Bray failed to show up for interviews with the media, prompting then-coach Derek Dooley to say he needed "to man up" and answer questions about his performance. Dooley also said Bray might be benched.

Bray responded with a 368-yard, four-touchdown game in UT's near miss at South Carolina and followed that with the epic 530-yard, five-TD performance against Troy.

But what happened at Vanderbilt Stadium last Saturday is the kind of thing that sticks in the minds of pro scouts. Listless and ineffective, Bray was replaced by sophomore Justin Worley midway through the second quarter.

Bray returned in the second half but finished with a season-low 103 yards on 11-of-29 passing. He was intercepted twice. In retrospect, the Vols would have been better served if Dooley had stuck with Worley after halftime.

All of which brings us back to Bray and his decision. Don't be surprised if Saturday is his last game at Neyland Stadium.

It would be a mistake. But it wouldn't be the first mistake Tyler Bray has made at UT.

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