In fewer than four seconds, Terrelle Pryor saw all this ...
"I saw a Cover Two with a strongside rotation," the Ohio State quarterback said minutes after the Buckeyes' April 25 spring game. "They stayed on top. I saw Ray. He made a good move. He snuck right behind the corner. I saw the corner right there, and I was like, all right, I'm going to throw this in there."
And that's exactly what the sophomore did. With a spring-game record 95,722 watching, Pryor stepped up in the pocket and fired a laser beam over the right sideline and into the teeth of a 24-mph wind. The throw whistled past cornerback Andre Amos' earhole and into the hands of a sprinting Ray Small, who juked two defenders to finish off a 42-yard touchdown connection.
Pryor probably could have thrown that ball six months ago. But could he have made that read? "No," he admitted. "I jumped right into camp. Coaches didn't really teach me all that, because we didn't really have time. We had to go. With the spring, you go through a whole process."
That process has produced a true quarterback ready to begin utilizing all of his physical gifts. The sophomore from Jeanette, Pa., stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 235 pounds. He's almost as thick as Florida's Tim Tebow, but faster. Pryor can make the same throws as Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, but remains a threat to run. In fact, only a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks could have made the throw Pryor completed to Small in the spring game, and even fewer could reproduce the throw Pryor made moments earlier -- a 44-yard bomb that sliced through the gale and landed in Taurian Washington's hands in the end zone.
After a showing like that, it's no wonder Pryor bristles when he reads on the Internet that he can't throw. "The media and all, whoever, said that I couldn't throw the ball," Pryor said. "But you saw today. The world saw today. I can throw the ball."
Can't imagine where Pryor might have read such a harsh assessment. Oh, wait. Maybe he saw it on this very site. Early in 2008, when Rivals.com and Scout.com ranked Pryor as the nation's top recruit, I was asked to write a story explaining why Pryor ranked just 16th in the SI/Takkle.com rankings. The rankings came from a respected company called Offense-Defense, which used a composite opinion from several scouts.
One of those scouts, a former college (Wake Forest) and pro (Bengals, Raiders) assistant named Bill Urbanik, explained dual-threat quarterbacks are notoriously tough to assess. Then Urbanik invoked the name of one of the biggest recruiting busts of the past 10 years. "Remember a guy named Xavier Lee?" he asked. Lee was a big-armed quarterback from Daytona Beach, Fla., who never could establish himself as the No. 1 quarterback at Florida State. As a freshman, Pryor established himself as Ohio State's quarterback after the Buckeyes' third game. He started the final 10 games and finished the season with 1,311 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, four interceptions and 631 rushing yards.
In that same story, Offense-Defense recruiting director Dan Licursi said the company's scouts believed Florida State-bound quarterback E.J. Manuel had a better arm and a better pocket presence than Pryor. Manuel, who dislocated a finger and missed most of this year's spring practice, probably will spend his redshirt freshman season as Christian Ponder's backup for the Seminoles.
To be fair, the scouts probably correctly assessed Pryor's pocket presence at the time. That much was obvious during Pryor's freshman season, when he racked up double-digit rushing attempts in six of his nine starts but failed to crack 20 pass attempts in all but one game, a loss to Penn State. Pryor would be the first to admit that unless conditions were perfect for a pass last year, he scrambled.
With some time to finally digest the offense and develop a rapport with his blockers, Pryor has learned to stay calm in the pocket. He knows now that while he can do plenty of damage with his legs, his arm can carry the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and beyond. The 42-yard touchdown pass to Small served as a prime example. The 2008 Pryor probably would have seen the bulge in the pocket and darted through the hole between the right guard and tackle for 15 yards. Instead, the 2009 Pryor stepped into a clear space, planted his feet and threw. "He's much more comfortable in the pocket," Buckeyes tight end Jake Ballard said. "He's not thinking run first."
Now, experience and intangibles are all that separate Pryor from Tebow, Bradford or Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. The experience will come. As for the intangibles, Pryor's already working on those. Every semester, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel gathers the team and asks all players who earned at least a 3.0 grade point average to stand. This spring, Pryor made sure that when Tressel called, he'd be among the group. "If you have a quarterback under [3.0]," Pryor said, "you're not a leader."
Leadership seems paramount to Pryor. He returned to the subjected frequently during a 15-minute interview session after the spring game. "As a quarterback, I need to take the lead of the offense," Pryor said. "I need to think of it as my offense."
Pryor's teammates undoubtedly understand that as Pryor goes, so do they. That's why Pryor was the first player selected in the draft for the spring game. But the culture at Ohio State may prevent Pryor from officially being anointed a team leader as a sophomore. Before the spring game, senior safety Kurt Coleman led Pryor's Gray team onto the field. When the captains met at midfield, Pryor stood on the sideline. Pryor understands the climate within which his team exists, so he will try to inspire with his play rather than his words. "Just lead by example," he said. "That's all I can do right now. We have older guys. They're going to lead vocally. I'm just going to lead by example."
Though Tressel may not think Pryor's ready to be a captain, the coach certainly understands the sophomore's importance. After two quarters of the scrimmage -- one with a non-contact jersey and one without -- Tressel yanked Pryor to avoid risking injury to his most important player. "He was ejected," said Tressel, who wore a Hawaiian shirt that seemed to draw out the jokes his sweater vest typically suppresses. "I'm tired of his stuff."
Later, Tressel made an excellent point. "One thing we've always believed is that you can't win the national championship in the spring," he said. "But you can lose it by not progressing enough."
Pryor's progress will allow the Buckeyes to start the season with national-title dreams even though they're replacing more quality players on both sides of the ball than anyone else in the preseason top 20.
So go ahead. Tell Pryor he can't throw. Tell him he's overrated. The Buckeyes will probably thank you for it.
"We're going to get touchdowns all year," Pryor said. "We're going to keep working hard. We don't care about the critics."
- Andy Staples, SI.com