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Raiders' Terrelle Pryor showing signs of promise


Well, perhaps not everyone. The supremely confident Pryor seemed to expect this leap all along. And so did Tom House.

Most people who know the name recognize House as a baseball pitcher. He played eight years with the Braves, Red Sox and Mariners, mostly as a reliever, and is probably best remembered for catching Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run while in the bullpen for Atlanta on April 8, 1974, and running to home plate to deliver the ball to Aaron.

Since retiring as a player, House had reinvented himself as a coach. He was a pitching coach for several pro teams, and for many years at his alma mater, USC. But he also works with tennis players, golfers and quarterbacks, any athlete who uses what House refers to as "rotational movement skills."

House has become almost a mythic figure among quarterbacks. He has worked with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Alex Smith, among many others, and last offseason he tutored Pryor.

The relationship began, as it always does for House, with a motion analysis. He films each quarterback he works with and then sits down with them to review the tape at 1,000 frames per second. The breakdown reveals mechanical flaws invisible to the human eye, which, according to House, sees about 32 frames per second.

House declined to divulge much of what he observed in Pryor's delivery, but did offer one example.

"I can say this: For every 1 inch of inappropriate head movement, it costs you a couple inches of release point," House said. "His head was moving inappropriately about 8 inches. ... He had arm strength, he had foot speed, he had great coordination. He just had a couple things that were keeping him from being accurate."

Pryor explained during training camp in July that he was leaving his chest open as he threw, disrupting his motion.

"So when I was coming down to throw with my left arm, my right arm was saying it's time to go," he said. "The timing wasn't right."

House and his assistant — Adam Dedeaux, grandson of House's mentor and college baseball coach, the legendary Rod Dedeaux — got to work with Pryor. They were on the USC baseball field for 3?-4 hours a day, six days a week for about 10 weeks, endlessly refining Pryor's throwing motion.

"It takes about a thousand reps to overcome a bad habit, and about 10,000 reps before it becomes autonomic, where he doesn't have to think about it," House said. "What I'm most proud of, Terrelle got his 10,000 reps in, in the couple months he was with us. He worked his butt off."

Dedeaux, a former quarterback, worked with Pryor on his footwork — three-, five- and seven-step drops, and throwing on the run. House's focus is much narrower.

"I'm interested in when the back foot plants and the body starts moving forward," House said. "What happens with weight shift, what happens when weight shift delivers energy to the body, what happens when the body gets the energy into the arm, the hand and the ball."

By the time Pryor showed up for training camp in Napa in late July, he was by all accounts a more accurate passer.

"Oh, man. Ask Coach Flip. The first throw I made in practice was across the field, like a 15-yard dagger," Pryor said. "It kind of like woke everybody up — whoa. It's kind of sweet. Feels good. First play of camp, my first rep, I threw a dagger. And I just kept on getting better and better."

Oakland quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo — Coach Flip to his players — welcomed Pryor's work with House, but downplays it as a defining moment. To DeFilippo, who was hired by new coach Dennis Allen in February 2012, Pryor's development has been gradual and predictable. It's the same arc most young passers enjoy when they are exposed to NFL coaching, and to veteran teammates like Carson Palmer, who started ahead of Pryor in 2011 and 2012.

"I think a lot's being made over mechanics and everything," DeFilippo said. "Where really I think the majority is he's got some experience playing the quarterback position, and he knows where guys are gonna be. And now he's starting to play faster. So has he worked on mechanics? Yes. But where he's gained the most from where I've seen him is experience at this level."

One thing that has been clear about Pryor from the outset is his desire to be great. DeFilippo calls him "a sponge" when it comes to absorbing information. Pryor said he stays 10 minutes after each practice to maintain the throwing mechanics House taught him in the offseason.

He got together with House for a couple days during the Raiders' bye week, too. The instructor came to the Bay Area, and they watched film together and worked at a nearby field.

"He's one that when you leave (the film room), he's grabbing a couple receivers and staying a little extra to watch," Raiders practice squad quarterback Tyler Wilson said. "Doughnuts aren't always the best thing, but he's bringing doughnuts to the offensive line. And that's the kind of things that you've gotta do to have that leading role and be the guy."

Before getting to the NFL, Pryor never had trouble being the guy. He was arguably the most highly recruited football player in history coming out of Jeannette (Pa.) High School. Pryor opted for Ohio State, started as a true freshman, was Rose Bowl MVP as a sophomore and left the Buckeyes with a record of 31-4 as a starter.

It was a messy parting, though. Pryor got caught up in a seedy memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal that helped bring down coach Jim Tressel, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomed him to the league with a five-game suspension. When Ohio State played at Cal in September, Pryor wasn't allowed to enter Memorial Stadium.

Despite all of that, Pryor was immediately embraced by most Raiders fans, who became impatient when he started just one game in his first two seasons. Like Davis, they were tantalized by Pryor's physical abilities. He is 6-foot-4, 233 pounds and almost unfairly athletic. In an age defined by mobile passers, there might not be a quarterback in the NFL who is harder to bring down in the pocket.

"Our message to every skill player on offense is: The play is always alive," DeFilippo said. "You have got stay alive. Because you never know when the play is gonna get extended with Terrelle. You see week in and week out, all of a sudden you think he's down and he escapes the pocket. He gives a guy a stiff-arm, and all of a sudden he's out around the edge."

The Oakland receivers are starting to do a better job of reacting to Pryor's scrambles, and to his subtle cues. After the Raiders beat the Chargers in Week 5, it was revealed that Pryor directed wide receiver Denarius Moore to adjust his route, mid-play, with a mere nod of the head.

Asked whether he'd even seen a quarterback use such a technique before, Moore replied: "Last time I did, it was playing in the back yard."

Pryor behaves like a leader off the field, too. He frequently signs up for "Raiders in the Community" appearances, and is highly polished at the interview podium. He handled the quarterback competition with aplomb this year, never taking a dig at Matt Flynn, even as the high-priced free-agent acquisition stumbled his way from first string to third, and then right off the Oakland roster. Flynn is currently playing in Buffalo.

But Pryor's mobility, athletic inventiveness and charisma were never in question. What has been so revelatory in 2013 is his pocket passing. In his first four games of the season (he missed the Washington contest with an injury), Pryor never completed fewer than 62 percent of his passes. Pro Football Focus, a film analysis site, noted that in a Week 5 victory against the Chargers, his numbers in non-pressured dropbacks — plays on which reading the coverage is much more important that mobility — were off the charts: 12 of 14 for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

That performance got the pundits buzzing. The next week, the crew of NFL Network's "NFL GameDay" was unanimous in its praise.

"I love what this kid's doing," former quarterback Kurt Warner said. "We know he can make plays with his feet. But he's making plays in the pocket with his arm."

"That game against San Diego that I saw was probably the best game I've seen a quarterback play against the San Diego Chargers in a long time," added Marshall Faulk, Warner's Super Bowl-winning teammate and NFL Network colleague.

And then Pryor proceeded to have his worst game of the season, completing just 53 percent of his passes (18 of 34) and throwing three ill-advised interceptions at Kansas City. Granted, the Chiefs were undefeated and Arrowhead Stadium can be a brutal site for visiting teams. But it was probably the first time Pryor fell short of expectations in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how he responds after the bye week.

"Every experience that he has, whether it be going into a divisional game on the road, into a hostile environment, is a new situation for him," DeFilippo said. "So the next time we go into Kansas City next season, and it's a big game, he'll have been there. ... He'll be better than he was this year."

In other words, DeFilippo doesn't expect Pryor to buckle under adversity. Neither does House.

"If you haven't put in enough time and repetition, you revert the minute the stress and anxiety of competition show up, the minute you go between the lines," House said. "Your old neural-pathway program, your old muscle memory, will jump right back out and grab you. ...

"And whether it was luck of the draw, or whether we did our due diligence, when Terrelle left, he'd had enough repetitions, enough feeling of what is efficient, and why — how to fix — I don't think he'll ever regress."

Will he continue to get better? There's no guarantee, but the Raiders have reason to believe a quarterback they drafted will become a star — something that hasn't happened since Ken Stabler arrived in 1970.