Programming note: Raiders press conference with head coach Dennis Allen streams LIVE at 1:10pm!
ALAMEDA – Terrelle Pryor plays in a way that’s hard to practice. The Raiders quarterback is a bebop jazz musician, constantly improvising on the fly. Pryor orchestrates this improvisational style, with a rare combination of speed, smarts and elusiveness.
Everyone else has to read and react.
That’s no easy task, considering Pryor can keep a play alive for 9, 10 or even 11 seconds. The team runs a scramble drill in practice, with designated space to maintain during broken plays. Drills are mere guidelines, carrying assumptions unpredictable when Pryor remains on the move.
There is one thing that helps receivers adapt to Pryor’s out-of-pocket play: Time.
“It’s so difficult to script in practice that when it comes up in a game, they have a better feel for it,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “But I wouldn’t say that at the beginning of the year that they weren’t very good at it. They’re just getting opportunities. They’re just more aware of it, which is probably be the right way to describe it.
The receivers are a little bit more aware in their own mind, and they’re armed with a time clock in their head. The play may break down at a certain point, so they have to be aware of their spacing and their spacing relationship in relation to one another.”
Scramble drills can help with that, but the Raiders don’t want to spend too much time on it. The goal is for plays to go right, for Pryor to throw from a clean pocket or make a designed throw on the run.
“He wants to mature as a quarterback and wants to work on going through progressions and understanding things,” Olson said. “The one thing that’s clear as we watch practice film and compared it to game film is that Terrelle’s always shown good instincts on game day.”
Pryor puts his team is productive situations, but it takes more than one to move chains. Pryor needs his receivers working with him, often breaking routes while responding to his whim. They’ve gotten good at it.
“We’re all getting used to what he’s doing back there and where he likes to go with the football,” receiver Rod Streater said. “You have general rules of where to go, and you need to find certain windows that give him the best chance to make a play.”
The receivers get it. That’s a major reason why Pryor has run less and thrown more. He’s taking bigger chunks and avoiding hits, a double bonus for a player the Raiders can’t afford to lose.
“It helps because defense assume he’s just going to run once he’s outside the pocket,” Streater said. “With a guy that fast, you have to respect the run and devote effort to us. That leaves us with more room downfield, because they’re more concerned with him than us.”
On extended plays, a receiver can get uncovered. That’s something created through effort and constant adjustments on the fly. Brice Butler did a great job coming back to the ball on a crucial third down conversion Sunday against San Diego. Denarius Moore responded to Pryor's head nod and wrist flick, found an open space and caught a touchdown.
While Pryor typically escapes the pocket to buy himself time, sometimes he gives receivers an extra beat to get open.
“I see guys working hard downfield,” Pryor said. “Defenses are going to cover things up, so they know that if things are covered that they are going to have to start working with me and find some open space.”
It’s pretty exciting when improvs works out, when high-tech sport turns into a sandlot fight.
“It’s just playing football like you’re a six-year old,” Moore said. “Honestly, it’s pretty fun. When a pocket breaks down, we all know what to do.”