NAPA – Terrelle Pryor stood calmly in a collapsing pocket, surveying his options downfield. At first glance, there seemed to be none left. Pryor thought different.
The young Raiders quarterback gave Brice Butler an extra beat and launched a high-arching pass 60 yards toward the end zone. Butler was covered well, with one point of defensive weakness over his right shoulder.
That’s exactly where the ball was placed. Perfect pass. Reception. Touchdown.
[REWIND: Pryor showcases athleticism]
Pryor sent his fist up to celebrate a moment where everything went right.
Everything went wrong on the next rep, and Pryor knew it. He found a crease, skirted through and turned a broken play into a 20-yard gain.
Somewhere on the sideline, John DiFilippo was smiling.
That was Terrelle at his best. It was a version of Pryor the Raiders quarterbacks coach hadn’t seen last year. Or last month for that matter.
“I see a guy who has improved a great deal since we first got here,” DiFilippo said. “I see a guy who is much more confident in the offense and, consequently, I see players who are more confident in him.”
While the 24-year old remains a project with flaws left to fix, Pryor is more accurate, more confident in his decisions than ever before.
This quantum leap is not by happenstance. It’s a result of greater system knowledge, more accurate reads and vastly improved mechanics.
Arm accuracy, DiFilippo says, has everything to do with Pryor’s feet. Footwork got Pryor into trouble especially under duress, leading him to step too far into the pocket and constrict his entire throwing motion. It led to ineffective passes too often batted down. Even when protected well, Pryor wasn’t staying loaded on his back foot.
This camp, Pryor has largely eliminated these bad habits.
“It has kept him from getting into trouble, which has helped him develop a more consistent launch point,” DiFilippo said. “His elbow is higher, which is causing a higher release. His launch point is staying much higher than it was last year. But it all starts with his feet. That’s why we’re seeing increased accuracy.”
Pryor has learned a lot from this Raiders coaching staff, but he sought a second opinion this offseason. Pryor hired private quarterback coach Tom House, a former baseball pitcher who works with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, to re-teach him how to pass.
“He’s a throwing mechanics freak,” Pryor said. “He analyzes everything scientifically and shows exactly where things break down.”
Pryor discovered that much was going wrong. The throwing motion was off sync, making him late delivering a ball consistently misdirected. House broke it all down on video and showed him how to fix it. Pryor corrected his upper-body mechanics one rep at a time.
“What I saw looking in the mirror last year was that I need to be more accurate,” Pryor said. “That’s what it is and somehow I knew I had to get there. I'm as accurate as I've ever been, but there's still work to do. I’m getting close I can feel it.”
Raiders coaches are still working on his mental makeup. They’re trying to instill confidence in his decisions. And, if Pryor feels the need to run, they want him to commit.
Hesitance came from uncertainty. Last season, he wasn’t sure of so many things that he understands now.
“I see his mind working slower, with more fluidity and confidence,” DiFilippo said. “That’s happening because Terrelle actually knows where people are. He knows his protection calls, which slows the game down for him. We want him to play fast, think slow and eliminate as many decisions before the snap as possible to make an accurate throw downfield to the right guy.”
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Those throws aren’t all the same. Not anymore. Pryor used to be a fastball pitcher, using power and speed even for throws that require an artist’s touch.
“There are some times you don’t need to throw it 100 mph,” DiFilippo said. “He’s starting to understand our concepts and how to use loft and proper arch to get the ball into tight spots. It’s taken some time, but he’s learning that those things are more important than arm strength.”
So much has been taught, yet there’s so much left to learn before Pryor gets the keys to a first-team offense.
Pryor has had trouble getting his offense out of the huddle. He still has issues delivering passes late, and for every perfect pass, there’s another that ends in frustration.
Pryor has made enough progress to warrant his own package, an opportunity that can capitalize on his gifts while streamlining his responsibilities. Not enough to seriously challenge starting quarterback Matt Flynn.
Pryor would like to expand his role in time. He considers himself significant closer to the ultimate thanks to an offseason crash course in how to play quarterback.
“It’s been a process,” Pryor said. “It was hard for me, but I’m still getting better every day. I believe I’m getting closer to getting to where I want to be and closer to someone who could lead a team someday. I’m not there yet, not by any means, but I’m making big progress.”