Will Terrelle Pryor Ever Get His Chance to Shine in the NFL?
Terrelle Pryor offers versatility that still gives him the chance to contribute in a modern NFL increasingly open to dual-threat quarterbacks. But the player who has only 155 pro passing yards to his credit still faces an uphill battle to start.
The Oakland Raiders opted against seeing if Pryor could blossom this offseason, instead trading for Matt Flynn and drafting Tyler Wilson.
Head coach Dennis Allen has been clear that Pryor is not yet ready to start, according to Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group. In the same article, Allen noted the central issue concerning Pryor:
There's been no lack of effort on his part. Still, when you look at it, the quarterback position, he's still young in the position, and there's still a lot of improvement he needs to make. He's got a great athletic skillset, but still some of the finer points about playing quarterback are still what he needs to continue to get better at.
Allen has highlighted the main conflict involving Pryor. That is the argument involving raw physical skills versus unrefined technique.
Nobody can dispute that Pryor offers a greater level of athleticism at the position than anyone currently on the Raiders roster. While his craft and guile as a passer need work, Pryor's playmaking potential as a runner is his best chance to shine in the NFL.
This is, after all, the age of dual-threat quarterbacks. Today's coaches are more willing than ever to tailor their schemes to fit run-first quarterbacks.
That means mixing college concepts with pro-style principles. It is no longer a semi-mocking compliment to praise the rushing skills of a quarterback before emphasizing passing technique.
The ability to challenge a defense with the threat of a scramble is no small thing. More and more teams are encompassing elements of the read-option, pistol and Wildcat schemes into their offenses.
The Raiders could do the same for Pryor. The 6'4", 233-pounder certainly has the frame and speed to be a dangerous rushing threat from certain looks.
But Tebow is just one example. Some have turned working in sub-packages to their advantage. Colin Kaepernick emerged for the San Francisco 49ers only after producing big plays in the Wildcat.
Adding a few of these wrinkles would be a good idea for a Raiders offense that ranked 26th in points in 2012. It would also be a big boost to Pryor's development.
He would still have some opportunities to pass, but mostly, his strength as a runner would be emphasized. Some read-option and Wildcat looks would let Pryor do what he currently does best.
Two plays from his lone pro start, in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers, show how the Raiders could use Pryor as a sub-package weapon.
The first is an improvised scramble that showcases the value of Pryor's rushing talent and how it punishes certain defensive schemes. Pryor is lined up in the shotgun, and the Chargers are showing blitz.
The Chargers have cheated two linebackers up to the line and clogged the middle of the formation. This is a mistake against a scrambling quarterback and creates an easy lane of escape around the outside for Pryor.
Not only does Pryor's fleet-footed skill force a defense to respect the outside lanes first, it also punishes man coverage. In the screen shot below, the Chargers have moved safety Eric Weddle down into the box.
Because it is a blitz, Weddle is there to pick up the running back in man coverage if he releases into a pass pattern. However, Pryor's athleticism means Weddle is faced with a nightmare decision.
Does he abandon his coverage responsibility and play contain on the outside? If he does, the Chargers are going to let a potential receiver go free.
This is the classic dilemma a dual-threat quarterback like Pryor poses. In this case, Weddle goes with the running back, and that leaves only rush end Melvin Ingram to contain Pryor on the edge.
A footrace to the outside against a defensive end should be a dream matchup for any rushing quarterback. So it proves here, as Pryor easily beats Ingram to the corner to convert on third down.
If used right, Pryor's talent for making plays with his feet narrows the options for a defense. It limits coordinators to scheming outside pressures to try to keep him contained.
That should let the Raiders set their blocking schemes accordingly. Pryor's rushing skills would also commit a defense to more zone coverage concepts, so as to allow their players to keep eyes on Pryor.
Knowing the emphasis of the coverage they are going to face would have to be an advantage for the Raiders. If they were to use Pryor's threat as a runner more effectively, they would have to design more plays featuring misdirection.
A perfect example occurred in the fourth quarter against the Chargers. With the Raiders at the goal line, they use a three-receiver set to fool the Chargers and still set up a planned quarterback run.
Wide receiver Denarius Moore will block the outside linebacker on the edge. On the other side, running back Darren McFadden will appear to attack the defense on a fake sweep.
Once the ball is snapped, Moore (17) makes the key block to create a clear lanes to the outside for Pryor. Notice how McFadden's supposed run forces the Chargers defense to slant towards him, as they cannot ignore his threat.
That threat is set up by a nice play-action, shown below. While the Chargers defense goes one way, Pryor pivots and sprints the other way.
Once he makes it to the outside, Pryor's speed is again too much for pursuing defenders. He completes a well-schemed and easy three-yard score.
These kind of plays place defenses in a terrible bind. The Chargers were easily fooled, but in fairness, they could hardly ignore McFadden.
Pryor's ability to thrive on these kinds of designs can help him shine in the pros. The presence of new offensive coordinator Greg Olson could also play a key role.
He worked with Jeff Garcia with both the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Garcia was a run-first quarterback who refined his passing technique to suit the requirements of the West Coast offense.
But Garcia retained his knack for manufacturing big plays with his feet.
Olson has worked with West Coast coaches like Steve Mariucci and Jon Gruden. He could try to mold Pryor in a similar way.
Of course, refining his mechanics as a passer has to be a priority for Pryor.
The West Coast system does demand strong elements of precision and rhythm. Those requirements and familiarity with the scheme explain the decision to acquire Flynn.
Of course, that does not guarantee Flynn the job, even after an endorsement from Allen (via Steve Corkran). Flynn, after all, did fail to beat Russell Wilson to the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks.
Pryor's problem is that he currently lacks consistent touch and accuracy. The problem exists in both his short and deep passing games.
In March, Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver claimed the Raiders are sceptical about Pryor's prospects of ever making the grade. That could explain the decision to use a fourth-round pick to draft Tyler Wilson.
Wilson is more of a classic pocket passer, with the arm strength to execute the full range of pro throws. A report from Steve Corkran suggested Wilson has already made a very positive impression on the coaches.
Pryor's situation in Oakland makes securing a starting role seem like a tough task. However, the Raiders should not easily dismiss his skill as a playmaker.
His dual threat as a read-option or Wildcat quarterback can be invaluable in today's NFL. That is a dimension the Raiders have not had for a long, long time.
It is also Pryor's only edge over Flynn and Wilson. He is undoubtedly raw, but nobody expects anything from the Raiders.
The organization has been upfront about the challenge of its rebuilding process. It is one of the few teams that could actually afford to indulge a prospect at arguably the most important position in football.
If Pryor is ever taught the right technique to go with his athleticism, he would certainly have a chance to shine in the NFL. That chance might even come in Oakland.
All screenshots courtesy of CBS Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.
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