ALAMEDA — The Oakland Raiders spent the first two years after late owner Al Davis' death looking for a quarterback to return the franchise to glory.
They traded for Carson Palmer and Matt Flynn, drafted Tyler Wilson and pursued Josh Freeman, all while being deeply skeptical of Davis' final draft pick in Oakland.
Now the Raiders finally appear to be firmly behind Terrelle Pryor as their starting quarterback, believing his steadily improving mechanics, paired with his breathtaking athleticism, could give the organization the quarterback it's been lacking during a decade of disappointment.
"I think they have an intriguing prospect that they can continue to develop," said Rich Gannon, the last quarterback to lead the Raiders to the playoffs in 2002. "This is a tremendous opportunity for him and he's earned that opportunity. He clearly beat out the other guy in training camp. It's not like this job was given to him. But now you need to see continued improvement from the guy."
Pryor's performance so far this season may be enough to take the Raiders off the list of teams that will be desperate to draft a quarterback in April.
That optimism remains even after Pryor had his worst career start last Sunday in a 24-7 loss at Kansas City. He threw three interceptions and was sacked nine times as he struggled behind a makeshift offensive line and with record-setting crowd noise.
"He's probably leaps and bounds ahead of where we thought he would be at this point in time," coach Dennis Allen said. "The key for him is he continues to work and continues to strive to get better on the little things. Because he's always going to have the elite athleticism and the ability to create."
Pryor has surprised his own organization, the other 31 teams that passed on him multiple times in the 2011 supplemental draft, and outsiders who doubted he could transform from an athlete playing quarterback to a quarterback with great athleticism.
Pryor heads into the bye week completing 64.5 percent of his passes with an 84.8 passer rating, while leading the team with 285 yards rushing.
"Anybody who says it hasn't surprised them is lying," said former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer. "I'm blown away. His good has gotten really good. His bad is still really bad and he has to fix that, but his good is much better than anybody could have imagined."
Pryor joined the Raiders in August 2011 after he opted to go in the supplemental draft rather than serve a five-game suspension at Ohio State for his role in a memorabilia-for-cash scandal. While most teams were skeptical of Pryor as a quarterback, Davis saw enough to pick him in the third round.
Pryor was forced to serve that five-game suspension in the NFL, and it wasn't lifted until two days after Davis' death. Pryor said he talked to Davis frequently in his short time in the organization and says Davis' belief in him helps fuel his confidence today.
Pryor played sparingly his first two years behind Palmer, throwing just two passes before starting the 2012 season finale when Palmer was injured. He threw two touchdown passes that game and ran for another, but looked so unpolished as a passer and uncomfortable in the pocket that the team did not believe he could replace Palmer as the starter this season.