- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Oakland Raiders are being run differently under new general manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Dennis Allen than they were during the legendary Al Davis era. For one player, though, living up to the expectations of Davis -- who died in October at age 82 -- is still an important commitment.
Terrelle Pryor wants to be so much more than an answer to a trivia question.
The Raiders’ selection of the embattled former Ohio State quarterback in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft in August was classic Davis. It was all his decision, and it was the final draft pick of his life. In Pryor, the Raiders got an immensely talented athlete with great measurables. But they also got a project; it was a familiar boom-or-bust pick by Davis.
Once he joined the Raiders last summer, Pryor had some memorable conversations with Davis, in which the owner often told Pryor what he expected from him. Pryor said he talked to Davis on the phone a couple of times a week up until Davis’ death. Now that he is gone, Pryor uses his short time with Davis as motivation as he tries to make the climb from risky pick to starting NFL quarterback.
“That drives me,” Pryor said in a recent session with media members. “Because the last pick -- the last pick may not mean anything. I might not mean anything to anybody. But to me, you know, it kind of felt like -- last pick of a guy that made a legacy of football. He was just a well-known guy. Being the last pick ... I mean, that's special, just in that sense, just how his name is always brought up. He's on HBO shows now after his death. It's just an honor, how much I have to, I want to.”
Listening to and watching Pryor say those last words was telling. It was clear how much succeeding for Davis meant to him.
Still, Pryor is in a unique situation. There isn’t an emotional connection between him and the new regime. McKenzie and Allen inherited Pryor. They surely will give him an opportunity to develop, but his progress is far from being a focus for this team.
Pryor, who played one play last season and was called for a penalty on it, is not in the team’s immediate plans. That was made clear when the Raiders signed Matt Leinart this offseason to back up starter Carson Palmer. Leinart was with new Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Houston the past two seasons. Knapp is clearly more confident in having the veteran Leinart back up Palmer than going with the raw Pryor.
That is the smart tack for Knapp to take. The Raiders have to coach Pryor and let him grow. He missed a lot of developmental time when he left Ohio State before his senior season under the cloud of an improper-benefits scandal.
It would not make much sense to rush him. If brought along correctly, Pryor has a chance to develop because of his athletic ability and plus arm strength. Prior to this year's draft, Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. said he thought Pryor would have been taken in the third round this year had he been part of this draft class.
Pryor understands that he has a learning curve. But to listen to him, Pryor is attacking each practice with the intention of impressing the coaching staff enough to make him the starter over Palmer, whether that goal is realistic or not. The staff is noticing. Both Allen and Knapp have complimented Pryor on his work ethic.
“I’m going to go about my business getting better and working hard and no one [will] out-work me. That’s how I live and that’s how I do things every day, and it won’t change,” Pryor said. “I learned a lot from Carson but I’m not going to worry about what he’s doing. I’m not going to worry about what Matt’s doing because I have to be on my ‘A’ game every day.
“Competing to play -- Carson is the starter and he's going to be the starter. But I don't put myself as I'm going to be a backup. I mean, I don't sit around saying, 'I want to be a backup, that's what I want to be.' That's not how I operate. That's not how I want to be. I'm going to work to play. And Carson's always played well and always will. Whenever the opportunity comes for me to play, I'll play. But I'm not planning to be a backup. Get that correct.”
While he considers Palmer a competitor, Pryor is taking advantage of working with the veteran. Pryor said he relishes the opportunity to learn from Palmer. He said Palmer often gives him tips during film reviews.
“As a person, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Pryor said of Palmer. “He’s great. I couldn’t ask for anyone better. … He's taking all his time to give a word for me to get better.”
It will be interesting to watch Pryor in training camp and in the preseason. Continued improvement in his footwork and accuracy is paramount in the next couple of years as Pryor tries to show the new Oakland regime that the final pick of the Al Davis Raiders will be much more than a trivia answer.
5dEric D. Williams