I for one was pleased to read that Pittsburgh’s head coach Mike Tomlin attended the University of Tennessee’s recent Pro Day.
Besides the fact that Tomlin is a friend of the Volunteers’ new head coach Butch Jones, there were multiple offensive prospects at the Knoxville event who could very well be on the radars of the Steelers’ brass during “Draft Weekend.”
If Colbert & Co. are looking for a talented yet raw Quarterback to groom behind Ben Roethlisberger, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray could be a worthy late Day 2-early Day 3 gamble.
After a stellar performance at the Scouting Combine, Bray elected to sit out most of the Pro Day drills. Tyler’s decision to stand pat with his workout numbers however did not stop Tomlin from getting to know the former Volunteer Quarterback, as both reportedly chatted during the Pro Day.
While the former Volunteer Quarterback set career-highs in completions (268), attempts (451), passing yards (3,612), and touchdowns (32), his 2012 season was nonetheless tumultuous. Not only was Bray almost benched after a loss to Alabama in which he threw two interceptions and failed to meet with the media, he was benched during Tennessee’s final game against Vanderbilt due to poor play.
Although some might be put off by Bray’s completion percentage (59.4%) during his senior year, I will say that Bray was not running a high-completion percentage friendly offense at Tennessee. The types of throws that Bray was responsible for making were “pro caliber” throws in terms of how far they were down the field, and where they were located. While Bray’s accuracy was scatter-shot at times over his collegiate career, not many players his age (21) have been able to do what he did, especially in the S.E.C..
Bray reminds me of Ryan Mallett in terms of his tremendous arm strength, experience running a “pro style” offense, and overall frame (6’6″ 232 lbs.). Both players gained a wealth of experience at the collegiate level, and both signal-callers played effectively in one of college football’s toughest conferences from a competition perspective. Like Mallett however, Bray is not an exceptionally mobile Quarterback outside of the pocket, and his footwork is sometimes sloppy when he delivers the football.
In addition to their many on-field similarities, Bray’s maturity and character issues could affect his draft stock. Tyler was cited for vandalism when him and his roommate threw beer cans and golf balls at parked cars last summer (later dismissed), and had a reckless boating charge dismissed as well. Questions have also arose regarding Bray’s work-ethic amongst scouts and N.F.L. personnel people, and many believe that he would have been better served if he had returned to school for his Senior year.
On the surface however, the Steelers organization appears to be showing a particular interest in Bray. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Pittsburgh’s “braintrust” had dinner with the signal-caller on Tuesday night. Whether they are trying to gauge Bray the person, or simply trying to get information on some of his teammates I do not know, but the Steelers’ brass are doing their homework when it comes to the Quarterback prospect.
While Bray was probably a must-see/talk to attraction among teams looking to add a Quarterback on Day 2 of the Draft, I am sure that the wide receiver group of Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Zach Rogers drew the a large crowd of scouts and coaches alike.
Even though 2012 was his first year of FBS-level football, Patterson (6’2″ 216 lbs.) is a 1st Round-lock due to his speed, agility, and overall athleticism. Cordarrelle was a threat to score on handoffs, receptions, and kick returns in 2012, and I am sure that he has teams around the league salivating over his potential. As the Volunteers’ “jack-of-all-trades” weapon, Patterson racked up 46 catches for 778 yards and 5 touchdowns, rushed for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns, and even returned 1 kickoff and 1 punt for scores to boot!
Hunter could find a way to sneak in to Round 1, and he has definitely impressed scouts during his offseason workouts. At 6’4″ 198 lbs., Hunter possesses a surprising amount of “straight-line” speed (4.44 40 Yard Dash at Combine) and leaping ability (40.5″ Vertical Jump at Pro Day) for a receiver of his frame.
Despite the fact that he was returning from ACL surgery, Justin was the Volunteers’ leading receiver in 2012 (73 catches, 1,083 yards, 9 touchdowns), and is a tall, fast, “outside the numbers” type of weapon most signal-callers would love to have at their disposal. Like Patterson, Hunter must display an ability to catch the ball with more consistency. But if the wide receiver can improve, he could give the Steelers’ offense a skill-set they sorely lack, and a large Red Zone threat to target while Heath Miller is on the mend.
Like Patterson and Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers is also big and athletic pass-catcher (6’2″ 217 lbs.). Unlike Paterson and Hunter though, Rogers was not a member of the Volunteers last year. Even after his tremendous 2011 season (2011: 67 catches, 1,040 yards, 9 touchdowns), Da’Rick was kicked off of Tennessee’s football team prior to the start of the 2012 campaign. Rogers instead played the 2012 campaign at the FCS-level with Tennessee Tech, and enjoyed a measure of success (2012: 61 catches, 893 yards, 10 touchdowns). I for one like Rogers because he can line up outside the numbers and in the slot, and he is a very effective receiver on intermediate routes.
Despite his strong showing at The Combine (4.52 40 Yard Dash, 39.5″ Vertical, 4.06 20 Yard Shuttle), Da’Rick’s off-field issues which led to his dismissal are sure to raise some “red-flags” amongst scouts and personnel people. But the wide receiver’s ability to make plays and use his size and body control to his advantage in the passing-game will still probably make him a Day 2 selection.
For teams interested in speedy and effective slot receivers with good hands, Zach Rogers (6′ 182 lbs.) could be a late- Round steal to consider also. Overshadowed somewhat by the presence of Patterson, Hunter, and the other Rogers in Knoxville, Zach nevertheless enjoyed a career year during his Senior campaign (32 catches, 491 yards, 7 touchdowns). Although Rogers will stretch the field more horizontally than vertically as opposed to the other three pass-catchers, I believe that he route-running ability to be an effective player in the slot at the professional level. If Emmanuel Sanders does skip town to go to Foxborough, Rogers could be a terrific Day 3 selection for Pittsburgh to make to insert in Sanders’ place.
As most of you know, two of Pittsburgh’s three biggest offensive needs exist at backup quarterback and wide receiver (running back being the other). Because of that, I was not surprised to see Tomlin and members of the Steelers’ staff in Knoxville earlier today doing their homework. While the Steelers’ brass are sure to be looking at other prospects who could potentially fill those aforementioned needs, Tennessee’s Pro Day was almost a terrific setting for Pittsburgh’s brass to evaluate some players at positions of dire need on Offense.
Readers: Is Bray a developmental quarterback the Steelers should take a chance on this year? Of Da’Rick Rogers, Patterson, Hunter, and Zach Rogers, who could help Pittsburgh’s offense the most?
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