OAKLAND Terrelle Pryor always wanted to be a quarterback, OK? When coaches and friends, and even NFL analyst Jon Gruden, suggested he switch to tight end or wide receiver, the third-year Raiders quarterback politely but stubbornly shook his head and said, "No thanks."
Quarterback is in his head, in his DNA, in his local soil. Joe Namath and Joe Montana grew up within an hour of Pryor's hometown of Jeannette, Pa. Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger won Super Bowls with Pryor's Pittsburgh Steelers. And back at his old high school, the colors blue and red are beloved.
"Around here, Friday night's the night," Jeannette High athletic director Matt Lebe said from his cellphone. "The years Terrelle blew through, it was just electric, exciting. There were only 80 people in his graduating class, maybe 300 in the school, so you can imagine the amount of attention he received. People here still follow him closely."
Sundays include neighborhood barbecues and gatherings at local bars and restaurants. Large TV screens dominate. The wall decorations are bathed in school colors. The atmosphere is proud and protective, says Lebe, perhaps even a little defiant; even those who thought Pryor should have accepted that basketball scholarship from Pitt instead of opting for football at Ohio State have started cheering for the Raiders on Sundays.
Not surprisingly, the local scouting report on the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Pryor reads like a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech.
"In high school, Terrelle was athletic and accurate as a passer," said Lebe, an assistant coach during Pryor's junior and senior seasons. "He made plays with his feet and with his arm. He could throw it, he could run it, and he was a very disciplined worker. It was only after he got to college that we started hearing things about his accuracy."
And that not-so-little scandal. Banished from Ohio State for selling memorabilia, Pryor was selected in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft and suspended by the commissioner's office until October. He got on the field for one possession during his rookie season, and he spent all but three games last season holding a clipboard and learning from veteran Carson Palmer.
With Palmer hampered by a rib injury for the 2012 finale, Pryor made his first start since leading Ohio State over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
A 24-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers apparently did little to enhance his job security. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie acquired veteran Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks, the theory being that Flynn could better manage the offense during what everyone regards as a rebuilding season while Pryor would still be a talented curiosity, an itch that might have to be scratched at some point, but probably not at some point this season.
But Flynn's poor preseason forced coach Dennis Allen to seriously consider a backup quarterback who isn't in the same conversation with his multidimensional young peers dominating the early season discussions. Despite his record-breaking spree at Ohio State and his selection as a Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl MVP and a Big Ten Conference all-academic honoree, Pryor plays to a skeptical audience, at least away from O.co Coliseum.
No one questions his size, speed and mobility. He rushed for 112 yards against the Colts and nearly pulled off an upset last weekend; his decision-making, passing mechanics and accuracy are the issues.
"I think he understands there were some critical mistakes that we've got to get corrected," Allen said, referring to Pryor's two interceptions. "We've still got to work with him to continue to improve as a passer."
If Pryor's arm catches up with his feet, Allen will become the next coach seduced by the versatile, multidimensional style headlined by Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton.
Take your pick. Luck is without a discernible weakness. Wilson is an explosive runner and accurate passer, though his size (5 foot 11) is a concern. Griffin, likewise, suffered a torn ACL last season and might benefit from fewer hits and more time in the pocket. Kaepernick has size, quickness and a cannon of an arm; when he learns to throw with a little more touch, he will be virtually unstoppable. Newton's decision-making and passing skills need to be refined not an easy task without a strong supporting cast but he has the size and physical tools.
Pryor? He will have no problem dancing with his more celebrated peers. He has those nimble feet. He has a knack for escapability. He has just enough cockiness to believe he deserves to be the starter and that sometime during the season he will be prominently featured in any conversation about the league's emerging young quarterbacks.
The thing he lacks is a talented supporting cast to ease his transition. Everybody gets beat up in a rebuilding season, particularly the quarterback. Good thing he runs quickly.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.