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After humble start, 'Superman' Terrelle Pryor continues WR education

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Terrelle Pryor draws up one of his favorite plays

The ability to dominate a cornerback one-on-one when executing a slant is the hallmark of a successful wide receiver, according to Redskins wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.

MONROEVILLE, Pa. -- During a quick break between drills last week, Washington Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor expressed a confidence that stemmed from his glory days -- as a high school small forward. The conversation among his trainers and a couple of buddies had steered toward Russell Westbrook and triple-doubles when Pryor weighed in with his own NBA prediction:

“I could average 10 points and 10 rebounds,” he said.

Playful boast? Supreme confidence? Pryor left it up to others to decide; he wasn’t laughing but was he serious? Even those who know him best aren’t quite sure.

“He says it and everyone laughs, but in the back of your mind it’s, 'I wonder if he could do that,'" said Tim Cortazzo, who has trained Pryor in this Pittsburgh suburb since he made the switch from quarterback to receiver 2½ years ago. “You can’t laugh him off. ... He could do anything. He’s Superman.”

Perhaps he wouldn’t average 10 boards a night changing sports, but look what he’s done switching positions in the NFL, surpassing 1,000 yards in his first season at receiver. He was a third-round pick in 2011 who made 10 starts at quarterback his first three years with Oakland, was cut in his fourth year and moved to receiver in his fifth. It was an experiment that left him out of the NFL until late in the 2015 season. Last year, Pryor expected the success. But 77 catches and 1,007 yards in his first full season as a receiver? Not bad.

Except ...

“I should have had 1,500 yards,” he said. “I’m not talking on nobody else; whatever happened happened. But I believe I was better than that. It was frustrating that I didn’t get more dominant numbers because I feel I can and I know I will. I can’t wait.”

If that happens, Pryor will be in line for a bigger contract than the one-year deal worth $6 million he signed with Washington in March. But he landed in a better situation than he left in Cleveland. He has a good quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and will be surrounded by other weapons (tight end Jordan Reed, receiver Jamison Crowder, among others). Pryor joined them Monday as offseason workouts began.

Humble beginning

Pryor’s personal growth could help those others as much as they’ll help him. That’s why he’s working out five to six days a week with Cortazzo, a former University of Toledo receiver. It’s why Pryor exchanges text messages with Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown and why he’ll work with former All-Pro receiver Randy Moss and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin this summer.

“I want a guy that has that mentality, who has that confidence he could beat anybody,” Cortazzo said. “It made the transition easier. But when we started, it was humbling. I remember one of the first days he stopped me and was like, ‘Tim, you’re the first person to make me feel like I’m a bad athlete,’ because I broke it down so much. I don’t know if he had anyone who would break down something he’s doing and try to fix the things he’s doing. You’ve got a freak athlete, why change it?”

Pryor’s transition to receiver began with Cortazzo in May 2015. They worked 3½ hours a day, twice a day, to prepare for training camp. Pryor said he’d have to walk through every drill four times just to get the footwork down; he rarely needs to walk through once now.

“It was about making him look like a receiver,” Cortazzo said. “I started his drills with how I would start if a youth football player came to me saying, ‘I want to be a receiver.’ Now that we’ve surpassed the general phase, it’s about becoming savvy, recognizing different coverages.”

Advanced education

That education continues on a turf field near the Pennsylvania Turnpike in this Pittsburgh suburb. Pryor delayed his workouts until February after surgery on his right hand following the season. He has graduated from remedial work to the subtleties of the position. But Cortazzo provides constant reminders of the little things: sinking his hips; exploding out of breaks; pushing his feet off at the right time.

On a recent sunny, 60-degree day, Pryor runs through drills for 90 minutes with Cortazzo; Chris Rasky, his assistant from FSQ Sports Training; and Kez Genevro, a receiver from Clarion University hoping for a look from the NFL. After this, they'll head to a converted Lions Club five minutes away to lift weights and work on more hand-eye coordination drills for 45 minutes.

But on the field, a lot of the work focuses on encouraging the 6-foot-4 Pryor to take shorter, choppier steps to help him explode in and out of breaks.

In one drill, three small cones sit about a yard apart, with a fourth 5 yards beyond -- the shorter distance forces shorter steps. The first three cones reinforce what Pryor must do at the fourth. Sometimes, it’s about how he leans his shoulder inside before breaking out; other times the cones are aligned to hammer home the need to keep his chin over his body as he starts into his break, allowing him to stay balanced as he jabs forward, therefore staying explosive. He’ll perform each drill twice so he can get used to doing it with both his right foot and left foot.

Pryor stops to watch himself on video as Genevro runs through the cones. Pryor will sometimes post workout videos on social media, prompting other receivers, including Brown, to text him.

“They’ll say, ‘Hey, you’re really looking good, you’re looking like a different person,’” Pryor said. “I’ve never felt this explosive getting in and out of cuts. I feel so powerful, and my quick-twitch muscles are firing very well.”

Some days, Pryor will wear a bandanna over his eyes with a hole cut out so he can see with one eye.

“Like a pirate,” he said. “But sometimes a quarterback might throw a ball and the DB’s body is covering up one eye.”

He’ll call Cortazzo at midnight or later to go over the workout videos via FaceTime.

“My fiancĂ©e is sleeping, so I’ll go to the living room and we’d have an hour film session,” Cortazzo said. “Just watch routes, and I’ll talk through stuff. All he wanted to do was make this transition work.”

'Amazing story'

Those who’ve known him a long time say they’re not surprised.

“It’s his demeanor and his perseverance,” said Tony DeNunzio, an 87-year-old retired banker and longtime Pryor mentor. DeNunzio still attends the workouts. “Don’t tell him he can’t climb the pole. He’ll climb it for you. He took this like you and I go to work. That’s his job.”

Last summer, Pryor picked the brain of ex-NFL receiver Steve Smith Sr. when both were working with Moss. Pryor, on the advice of Moss, will take his receiver gloves off to catch passes in some drills to help him feel the ball better and use his eyes more. Per Brown's input, Pryor purchased a special set of sunglasses that give the ball a different glare -- and prevent the target from seeing it until the last second.

Moss helped Pryor win battles at the line of scrimmage. Pryor said part of that stemmed from returning to his basketball days.

“I was making guys look silly by acting like I was dribbling a basketball, using my hips and using my head to sell everything,” Pryor said. “Before his suspension last year, Josh Gordon would tell me, ‘Just watch how I play. I don’t dance; I just go. They can try to run with me and hold me up at the line, but they’re not going to.’ Just go. Speed-release and get their hands off you and just go. Make them run with you.”

Other times, he and Cortazzo watch video of various receivers, including Brown, Moss, Julio Jones, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Jerry Rice and Wes Welker. They’ll watch how they run different routes. With a small receiver such as Welker, they’ll watch how he runs routes in tight windows.

Pryor’s quarterback past still comes in handy. At times in the practice session at Gateway High School, Cortazzo’s arm starts dragging, the result of wanting Pryor to catch at least 200 balls a day. So Pryor throws to Genevro. The ball jumps.

“Still slingin’ that thing,” Pryor said after one perfectly thrown out route.

Those quarterback days help him understand, as he says, the big picture -- and how each route connects. He understands how a receiver must run a route with patience in, say, the red zone, so the timing isn’t disrupted.

He paid attention as Cleveland’s receivers coach Al Saunders showed film of players who didn’t post impressive times in the 40-yard dash but who played fast in games. The lesson for Pryor: It’s about speed off the line, but also the angle of departure and the precision of the routes.

Pryor said he’ll always remain a work in progress, simply because he’ll always keep asking questions, studying others and trying to improve. It’s how he’s reached this point.

“How many guys say, after four or five years of playing quarterback, I’m going to play receiver?” Pryor said. “That’s what I said. It’s amazing now that I look back at it and it will be an even more amazing of a story as it keeps going.”