Last Sunday, in the Oakland Raiders season-opening 21-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Terrelle Pryor turned in one of the biggest breakout performances around the entire league
For Steve Clarkson, though, who ESPN The Magazine dubbed “the most powerful QB coach in football,” the strong display was far from a big surprise.
“The thing that most impressed me was that I wasn’t surprised by his performance,” Clarkson said. “If you really follow him closely, going back to his college days, people forget this was a BCS MVP. He beat Oregon [in the 2010 Rose Bowl], and he took his teammates along for the ride.”
Clarkson runs the “Steve Clarkson Dreammaker” quarterback academy where he has trained signal-callers at every level of the game from two-time Super Bowl Champion Ben Roethlisberger, to Tate Martell, who as an eighth grader got offered a scholarship by the University of Washington. Clarkson has tutored Pryor since the quarterback’s days at Jeannette High School in Pennsylvania.
When asked about Pryor’s 112 yards on the ground and 217 through the air against the Colts, Clarkson noted: “That’s a lot of offense in a variety of ways. That’s hard to deal with, and people don’t realize not just how big and strong he is, but how fast he is.”
The most important adjustment that the super athletic quarterback has made, though, has been on the mental side: “This year he’s worked extremely hard on mentally making the game slow down for him.”
Pryor’s improved mental approach was certainly on display at Lucas Oil Stadium, but so too was his raw athleticism.
“He has a huge advantage because he’s so gifted athletically. You pretty much have to play him zone. You’ve got to always have your eyes looking at the quarterback when he’s in there. You can’t have your defensive backs and linebackers chasing receivers down field and turning their back on him because he can gobble up 20 yards in less than two seconds.”
Of course the NFL is a league of adjustments, and there will be plenty that the young quarterback will need to make each and every week. Up next, the Raiders face the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose offense failed to get past midfield until the fourth quarter in a week one beat down at the hand of the Kansas City Chiefs. However, for all their struggles scoring, the Jaguars are led by new head coach Gus Bradley, who previously was defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, where he built one of the most feared defenses in the league.
“It’s gonna take [defenses] more than a week to really get the adjustments made,” Clarkson said. “It’s really not so much him, so much as [the Raiders] just got to make sure they keep him out of third and long distances.”
In discussing the adjustments Pryor would need to make, Clarkson drew a parallel to the other remarkably athletic Bay Area quarterback.
“If you look at what happened across the bay with [Colin] Kaepernick, all the talk was, well, the zone read option, and his ability to get down field, and how they were going to lay hits on him. Then he gave them the look, and with the extra man in the box because that’s the only way you can defend that, and guess what? He beat you over the top. He never even ran it.”
The trick for Pryor is whether his arm will allow him to “beat” teams over the top.
“What you’re going to find, is a guy who has been in some cases not the greatest passer, will evolve into a tremendous passer because of what he is capable of physically. What you’re going to see now is that guys will have more wide open targets, and then eventually they become more adept at being more accurate and things of that nature.”
Last Sunday, Pryor’s lack of accuracy led to a pair of picks that perhaps cost the Raiders the game. Then again, it was only because of his legs that the team was even in it. If Pryor develops as a passer the way his old coach expects him to: “It’s freaky what he can become.”