Kiffin Recruiting Chimera
Judging the the web traffic yesterday, Tyler Bray's commitment to Tennessee was considered the biggest piece of recruiting news since Bryce Brown. Message boards like VolQuest and VolNation went bersek within minutes of the initial announcements. News sites were tripping over each other trying to get confirmation and trying to land the 'scoop' story on their website first. Bloggers (myself included) were rapidly scouring the internet to judge how valid the rumors were and how soon they could open up community discussions on the subject. For a couple of brief hours, Tyler Bray was far and away the dominant point of Tennessee Volunteer interest on the internet. And for good reason.
The Tennessee recruiting chimera places a lot of pride on their ability to bring in the players they want into the program. With the exception of the quarterback position, that was exactly what happened since Lane Kiffin stepped up to the mike in early December. The secondary class of 2009 is absolutely spectacular. Ed Orgeron seemingly points at defensive linemen and they jump on board. Running backs, special teams players, and South Floridians are drawn to Eddie Gran like moths to a flame (only without the whole singed wings part). But until yesterday, landing a quarterback seemed to elude the staff, placing one very big fly in the otherwise silky-smooth ointment.
But is Bray as big of a deal as the recent attention suggests? In my optimism, I'm inclined to think so, but let's look at the situation a bit and see what we're getting.
Bray's negatives are exceedingly obvious, and are the reasons he wasn't given much attention earlier. He's very thin (about 185-190 lbs. at the beginning of the summer) and slow (5.4-5.5 40 time). Even for a pocket quarterback, those are numbers that just scream tackling-dummy-to-injured-reserve. Also, being that tall and thin adversely affects strength metrics in a big way. There's a reason that the short-armed guys are the ones who win the bench press competitions at the NFL combines; they're doing far less work per repetition and consuming less energy. Much the same applies at 6'-6", and when coupled with a high bone weight to muscle weight ratio, the measurables just don't stack up.
We can't dismiss the lack of weight, even though weight is one of the easier deficiencies to correct for most players. You hear of players gaining or losing 10-20 pounds all the time (and linemen even more so) thanks to individually-tailored workout regimens, and the news isn't seen as particularly shocking. But those players are either closer to the norm for football players in the first place, or they are overweight and trying to lose pounds. It's just not common to see somebody this far underweight (football-wise). So we'll have to wait until we see how this progresses. He's reported to be up to 200 pounds already and he has an entire year to put on weight until next season. If we make the assumption that Stephens will start next year, Bray will have even more time. So long as we see continual weight gain - even if it's slow - we don't need to worry too much.
As far as being slow: we'll need to watch this. In Kiffin's system, Bray doesn't need to be a blazer, but he does need to be mobile enough for bootlegs, moving around in the pocket, and the occasional desperation scramble. If he builds up his muscle bulk, his bone mass to muscle mass ratio should drop to a better mark and he should gain speed as a result. I think he can get down to 5.1ish times with good track training and the right muscle build, and that should be good enough.
Undeterred by his lack of offers, Bray hit the summer camp circuit hard to try and prove himself. The first serious wake-up call came at the Elite 11 quarterback camp, where he barely missed out on MVP honors to Jake Heaps but took home Most Accurate and Most Upside awards. He then spun out to the National Ultimate 100 and validated himself with a repeat performance. That upside that garnered so much attention was comprised of:
- A surprising level of coordination for a tall, thin teenager.
- A short, compact, and very efficient throwing motion.
- Great footwork and fundamentals.
- A reasonably long range.
- Good field intelligence.
- Terrific accuracy.
Bray is almost a contradiction. We've all seen the kids who grew faster than their motor skills could accommodate, and they all look like Bray. We just don't see them who manage to maintain the fine tuning throughout the process, like Bray has. Stylistically, he's very similar to other tall precision quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Drew Bledsoe (which is obviously not saying he's necessarily the next coming of either). His height gives him great field vision, even during the play when linemen are standing in front of him. His quick overhand motion gets the ball out fast and above the defensive line, which should make his passes very difficult to block. At the very least, he's well suited to manage the offense on the field, and that's quite workable.
The most well-known video of Bray is here, courtesy Rivals. You can see in the video that, even though he's really thin at the time, he has a lot of velocity on the ball, and the receivers had a hard time with his hardest throws. I don't know how his touch is, so we'll have to see how that develops.
One: How strong is this commitment? This is never a question to dismiss anymore. We pulled Janzen Jackson, Bryce Brown, Nu'Keese Richardson, Marsalis Teague, and even David Oku (in a sense) away from other programs in the eleventh hour last year. It happens, and it will happen to our own commits from time to time. Considering that we pulled Bray from San Diego State, some reassurances that he won't bolt a second time would be nice. We have three:
- His family, by all accounts, is now planning on moving to Knoxville. House-shopping is usually a pretty solid indicator of a commitment being solid. It's somewhat volatile until the point that the family actually signs a home contract, but looking at houses in Knoxville does mean they're not looking in L.A. or (shudder) Gainesville.
- He is now on the phones recruiting for UT. In interviews, Bray has already indicated that he's going to work the lines with Markeith Ambles to bring in the offensive players that UT wants. I wouldn't be surprised if both T.J. Leifheit and James Stone have heard from him. I take this as a good sign.
- He will enroll in January, and no other school are reported to be pursuing him at the moment. There's just not a lot of time left to make him change his mind, especially considering point 1 above. If we hear of another school pressing him really hard, then we'll have reason to wonder. But until then, we can assume he's safe.
Two: Are we overrating this guy? Again, it's a fair question: we did pull a recruiting coup by snatching him form the clutches of the mighty Aztecs of San Diego State, after all. The truth is that there is always the chance that he'll not turn out. The only real answer to that question is that this is a risk with any quarterback coming out of high school. Peyton Manning is thought of as Peyton Manning because he happened to become what we hoped he'd be, but that's not to say that his success was a guarantee. But the possibility of him busting doesn't mean we can't expect him to succeed. Stylistically, he's a great fit for UT's new offensive system. His strengths are precisely the skills that he needs to succeed in Knoxville, and his weaknesses are the things least emphasized here. As best as we can tell, the fit appears good, so it's ok to be optimistic. If he does fail, it's more likely because of disappointment rather than being overrated in the first place.
It's not a satisfying answer, but that's because there is no good solution available until he suits up and plays. The proof is always in the pudding, so he have to sit back and wait. But at least we now know who we're waiting on.