When the Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes II with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft — after trading a 2018 first-round pick to do it — it would have been easy for backup quarterback Tyler Bray to mentally go in the tank.
The 25-year-old Bray spent the previous four seasons learning coach Andy Reid’s offense, and the Chiefs still opted to sacrifice premium draft capital to select another young quarterback with traits to mirror Bray’s cannon for an arm and love for the deep ball.
But Bray, an undrafted free agent in 2013, is no stranger to competition. He beat out 2014 fifth-round pick Aaron Murray for the backup job a year ago, though he had the No. 2 spot usurped from him by veteran Nick Foles during training camp.
And Bray functioned as the Chiefs’ No. 2 quarterback ahead of Mahomes this week during the Chiefs’ first three of 10 voluntary offseason practices. Bray knows that as long as he has a job in the NFL, he has a chance to play.
“It’s the same thing every year — you’ve got to come out there and compete,” Bray said. “We’ve drafted a guy every year … you can’t just sit back (and say) ‘Aw, here we go again.’ I mean, it’s the NFL. They’re going to bring in guys every year that are competing to start.”
Reid emphasized Thursday that Bray again has an opportunity to hold onto the No. 2 job, despite Mahomes’ presence and the fact Bray is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
“He’s going to compete — I would tell you that’s what he does,” Reid said of Bray. “He’s earned the right to be in that position and now he’s got to maintain it.”
What could complicate things for Bray is that the Chiefs’ No. 2 quarterback only gets a handful of practice snaps with the starters during the regular season. If the Chiefs are committed to getting Mahomes some snaps, it might make sense to install him as the top backup so he gets meaningful reps with the top offensive players.
But Reid also noted Thursday that young backup quarterbacks can still get on-field practice work during the regular season.
“Where they get their reps is on the scout team,” Reid said. “Then you try to tie that in to what (the first-teamers) do the best way you possibly can.”
Which makes the mental reps the backups take — when they watch starter Alex Smith run the offense — as important as on-field reps. And given the way coaches and teammates have complimented Bray’s improved knowledge of the playbook, it appears he has taken advantage of those mental reps.
For instance, Bray wasn’t asked to execute all of the Chiefs’ offensive concepts in practice last season. But Reid said that is no longer the case.
“For the most part, this is the first time he’s had the whole thing thrown at him and been expected to do it,” Reid said. “He’s doing a nice job with it. Tyler is very much improved from where we initially got him.”
Bray says he’s at the point where he’s able to point out when teammates are lined up incorrectly, even slightly.
“Just detailing where guys are supposed to be lined up,” he said. “Getting them to where they need to be and not just being like ‘Oh, he’s close enough.’”
Reid also praised Bray’s instincts and vision.
“There’s more than just the playbook,” Reid said, “there’s doing the things at the line of scrimmage that we ask him to do and adjustments we ask him to make, and he does well with those things.”
Bray and Mahomes aren’t the only quarterbacks in line behind Smith. Joel Stave, 25, was signed to the practice squad in November and re-signed to a reserve-futures contract in January. He’s 6 feet 5, 230 pounds and has a strong arm.
“He competes … he’s a smart kid and he’s learning,” Reid said. “Is he ‘there’ yet? No, but he’s showing improvement and that’s all you can ask of him until he gets a few more snaps under his belt.”
Stave says he’s primarily working on his footwork, decision-making and knowledge of the offense.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to understand the offense as well as I can,” he said, “and then playing as fast as I can.”