During a recent practice, Chiefs quarterback Tyler Bray spotted receiver Darryl Surgent sprinting down the numbers and dashing toward the end zone.
Surgent was locked in single coverage, which is sometimes as good as open in the NFL, and Bray — who knows this — promptly unleashed a beauty of a throw, a high, arcing spiral right into Surgent’s breadbasket for a touchdown.
There was zero fanfare. That’s life in the NFL, when plays like this are expected of professional quarterbacks.
“I try not to force it,” Bray said of the deep ball. “There’s a few times where I catch myself forcing the ball. I just need to learn if it’s not there, just get back to the read.”
However, that’s just one of the things Bray — whose maturity questions overwhelmed his intriguing arm talent enough to keep him from being drafted in 2013 — has apparently come to learn in the 13 months he’s been a Chief.
“He’s made a few changes,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
And the timing really couldn’t be better for him either — he's currently locked in a competition with veteran Chase Daniel and fifth-round pick Aaron Murray for the two backup spots behind incumbent starter Alex Smith.
There is a way the Chiefs could keep all four quarterbacks. As a new draft pick, Murray isn’t going anywhere, but he is recovering from an ACL tear in November and could start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Murray, however, has been moving around fairly well in OTAs, and if he participates in even a single training camp practice, he will be ineligible for the PUP list.
Thus, the easiest way for Bray to earn a roster spot is by winning the No. 2 job with a big preseason. That’s what it would take to beat out Daniel, who acquitted himself quite well in the Chiefs’ 27-24 loss to San Diego in the 2013 regular-season finale and has all the intangibles you want in a backup.
Bray, though, has some things going for him, too. With height (6 feet 6 inches) and natural arm talent, he can see over his linemen and make the kind of throws the other quarterbacks can’t. And while Bray is still listed at 215 pounds, Reid says he has added strength.
“He’s made the physical change,” Reid said. “That’s obvious to everybody. He’s got a different body type now than what he had last year.”
But it’s the mental side of the game that has always been the knock on Bray. His NFL.com draft profile noted that his accuracy and footwork “can go array at any point in the game,” and that he has a tendency to stare down receivers.
What’s more, Bray was also thrown into Reid’s complicated West Coast offense, which is a far cry from what Bray ran at the University of Tennessee.
“Not even close (to college),” Bray said with a laugh. “There’s lengthy, lengthy play calls that you’ve got to spit out, and you can’t take too long to sit there and think because you've got a play clock.”
Bray, however, added that it gets easier.
“Oh, I’m a lot more comfortable,” he said. “Just the verbiage, knowing what the play call is, knowing where my guys are supposed to line up, the protections, I mean, it’s night and day.
“Last year, I didn't make any of those calls. This year, I’ve got it down. I kind of know what’s coming.”
Reid said Bray, 22, has done a nice job of learning the system. But more importantly, Reid noted that Bray has matured some too.
Remember, Bray was being touted as a potential top-10 pick before a disastrous junior season in 2012 that kicked off with him being accused of throwing beer bottles and golf balls at parked cars from his balcony and ended with the Vols posting a disappointing 5-7 record, despite an offense that featured Bray and two receivers (Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson) who went in the top 34 of the 2013 draft.
Bray, a three-year starter in college, declared for the draft anyway, but was delivered a reality check when he went undrafted.
“You get thrown into the NFL as a quarterback, you grow up fast,” Reid said. “I think he’s done that. I like the way he handles himself around the players.
“Sometimes when you’re one of the younger guys that … is picked up and brought to a team, you can be a little brother, and that’s not the way he’s approached it. He’s kind of worked his way in where he’s gained the respect of the players that are around him. I’m proud of him for that.”
Bray, to his credit, was complimentary of the coaching staff and the veterans.
“Back when I was trying to get drafted, my agents — as soon as I got a call from Kansas City — were so happy because they knew these guys developed quarterbacks,” Bray said. “This is a great coaching staff, and I'm surrounded by great QBs with Chase, Alex and Aaron.”
Bray, though, knows he still has much to work on. His accuracy issues sometimes flare up in practice, and his decision-making can stand to improve. Without improvement in both areas, he could have a hard time replacing a gamer like Daniel.
However, it’s clear that Bray is excited about the strides he’s already made, and is eager to show his growth during the upcoming preseason.
“Oh, I can’t wait,” Bray said with a grin. “It’s going to be so much fun.”