The great thing about the 2012 NFL season is that it revealed how young, multidimensional quarterbacks can thrive in today's game. The scary thing is what that means for Oakland Raiders third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
While peers like Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have revolutionized the position in a season, Pryor has been waiting for an opportunity to prove his worth. Lately, it seems he's ready to attempt a huge leap in his development, one that sounds very ambitious.
Pryor recently made news when he told NBC Sports Network that he'll be "more than ready" to compete for his team's starting job this fall. That would be the same position that has belonged to Carson Palmer for most of the past two seasons.
You have to give Pryor credit for his confidence. It takes nerve to try replacing a nine-year veteran who cost the Raiders a first- and second-round draft pick in the trade from Cincinnati in 2011. You also have to wonder why Pryor would think he's prepared to lead any franchise.
It's not that Pryor isn't an intriguing player. Raiders coach Dennis Allen already has said as much this offseason. Pryor is blessed with wide receiver speed, a tight end's frame and a rocket right arm. But all Pryor has ever been is intriguing. He's a project, a raw talent, a young man who didn't reveal tremendous quarterbacking skills at Ohio State and wound up as a third-round supplemental pick after a scandal prompted him to leave school before his senior season.
The real problem is that the recent success of these young quarterbacks has made Pryor a lot more interesting. Allen has said his plan is to keep Palmer as his starter heading into the 2013 season, but the coach added that Pryor would have a shot to compete. That's another way of saying the Raiders want to know if they're sitting on the next Kaepernick or Wilson. Right now, it's hard to believe they are.
Pryor certainly showed some positives in a season-ending 24-21 loss to San Diego. He threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown that day. But he also went 13-for-28 and threw an interception. It was a decent first start for a young quarterback and just enough evidence to show he has grown during his two seasons on the bench.
Whatever confidence Pryor gained from that performance shouldn't be enough to convince him or the Raiders that great things are coming in the near future. Griffin was an accomplished passer when the Washington Redskins selected him second overall in the 2012 draft. Wilson set the single-season FBS record for passing efficiency in his only season at Wisconsin. These guys already knew how to do the things Pryor is learning only now. He's not going to gain ground on them because he looks the part.
A better comparison -- at least as far as career progression goes -- is Kaepernick. The 49ers certainly saw his potential when they selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. Kaepernick blossomed because of the staff of coach Jim Harbaugh, the support of former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and the team's decision to install elements of the same pistol offense he ran at Nevada. It was the perfect situation for growth. Kaepernick could take his natural gifts and refine them with strong coaching.
Pryor has to prove he has the kind of insane accuracy Kaepernick displayed once he became a starter last season. It also would be nice if Pryor had the same savvy, instincts and feel for making defenses pay for their mistakes. Kaepernick, Griffin and Wilson all felt comfortable when the ball was placed in their hands last season. Pryor must understand that doing what they did is a lot harder than they made it appear.
The most promising news for Pryor is that he is working with excellent coaches. He hired Steve Clarkson (who trained Ben Roethlisberger), George Whitfield (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck) and former junior college coach Craig Austin to teach him the finer points of operating out of the pocket. It's hard to believe Pryor's head isn't spinning with that much daily tutelage, but it's also his money. If this is how he'll best develop, then he might as well go all out.
It's telling that three coaches are necessary for a player to grow in one offseason. Pryor is either in a major hurry to develop his skills or that far behind where he needs to be. Regardless of the motivation, he doesn't need to press to grow. He just needs to listen to the people around him -- including Palmer and respected quarterbacks mentor Greg Olson -- to find his way in the league.
It's way too early to know whether Pryor will ever be on the same level as Griffin, Wilson, Kaepernick or Newton. It is fair to say that he won't be turning any heads this season. The work he is doing this spring is a tremendous sign that he is learning what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL. The next step is understanding that he'll need more time than most if he's ever going to thrive in this league.