Tyler Bray spent the entirety of the 2016 offseason — and the first week or so of training camp — attempting to hold off Aaron Murray for the Chiefs’ No. 2 quarterback job.
Bray achieved that goal … sort of. While he did not win the backup job due to the surprise arrival of former Pro Bowler Nick Foles, Bray did remain on the roster at the 53-man deadline in early September, unlike Murray and 2016 fifth-round pick Kevin Hogan, who were both released.
And while the 25-year-old Bray surely hoped to win the No. 2 job, the former Tennessee star — who spent his first three years in the league as an apprentice behind veterans Alex Smith and Chase Daniel — certainly wouldn’t call the increased reps he got last summer a waste.
“Just (learning) how to prepare,” Bray said at his locker after the season. “If you prepare over the top, you get into the game and … I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it becomes second nature — you’re reacting instead of overthinking.”
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The mental part of the game has always been the big question mark for the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder, who boasts tremendous size and a cannon for an arm. For years, he’s consistently shown a desire and ability in open practices to connect on the deep ball, a real weapon in today’s football. The Chiefs, in fact, saw enough raw talent in Bray to sign him to a two-year extension in September 2015.
However, that deal runs out after the 2017 season, which means Bray is again on the clock to show what he can do, a process that won’t get any easier for him if the Chiefs, who may lose Foles this offseason, decide to invest a high draft pick on a quarterback.
But if that comes to pass, Bray will have a four-year head start on whoever enters the mix.
Bray’s ability to process what he sees on the field and make good decisions will ultimately determine his ceiling, but he’s worked on these issues with the same coaching staff for years, which is an unusual boon in today’s “win-now” NFL.
“We’ve always talked about competitiveness, and I think Tyler has demonstrated that,” general manager John Dorsey explained after the decision to keep Bray over Murray. “He’s been in the system for three years. He has deep knowledge of it. I think he has the arm talent.”
Dorsey added that Bray separated himself from Murray and Hogan in the fourth preseason game, when he completed 10 of 17 passes for 104 yards. Bray missed the two previous games due to injury, but it was certainly an improvement from his performance in the preseason opener, when he was a little wild and completed just 3 of 9 passes for 48 yards.
“Early in the preseason I got a little excited, I was throwing the ball a little too hard,” Bray said. “I just had to settle down and throw the ball to the playmakers.”
When the season began, Bray’s reps dropped significantly as Smith (and to a lesser extent, Foles) commanded the lion’s share of the team’s limited practice reps. Nevertheless, Bray is confident he’s taken significant strides when it comes to the mental part of the game.
“You’ve got to put yourself in Alex or Nick’s shoes when they’re in there taking reps, so you just visualize what’s going on with the play and where you would go in that situation,” Bray said.
More than that, Bray says he can now spit out Reid’s lengthy play calls — and with some flair, too.
“We can call a play (without) the formation, and I already know in my head what the formation is, so if the headset ever goes out, I’m good to go,” Bray said. “In training camp, I could remember it … it’s just the first couple of years, I was trying to learn the plays.”
When the season came to a close following a divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh, Bray said he planned to spend the offseason in Fresno, Calif., where he works out.
When he returns for the start of the offseason workout program in mid-April, he’ll be eager to show how much he’s improved while taking “mental reps” in practice.
“I think I’ve grown a lot when it comes to understanding the offense … from the first couple of years where I was still trying to figure things out,” Bray said. “Now, I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on everything.”