April 20, 2010

Coaches see major strides in Pryor's growth

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano doesn't need Terrelle Pryor's tape from his freshman year for much anymore.

Unless he wants a quick laugh.

"Normally what happens if we throw (his freshman film) on, we don't do a side-by-side, we throw it on and we let it play for 30 seconds and then we laugh," Siciliano said. "We laugh because he has come such a far way."

While there was more than one moment from Pryor's freshman year that Siciliano recalled, the first time the quarterback threw a pass for the Buckeyes is a play the quarterback coach likes to remember.

Siciliano recalls that pass because he looks at it as a testament of how much Pryor has grown in two years as Ohio State's starting quarterback.

"His first perimeter throw he was throwing the ball from the middle of the field and he threw a rainbow and out to the out route. I mean, it was a rainbow. I thought it was going to rain," Siciliano said. "We always chuckle about it. It was his first throw here and he was as nervous as all get out and he just kind of put the thing in the air a little bit. You can see (his) growth by just throwing on the tape."

There is no denying that Pryor could be one of the more athletic players in college football, especially given the fact he stands 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds and is one of the fastest players on the Buckeyes.

But there is a difference between athlete and quarterback, which is the transformation process the current Buckeye staff is still trying to help Pryor progress through.

Upon arriving at Ohio State, there was so much for Pryor to learn before he could effectively run the offense Jim Tressel and his staff see fit for this team. It is a process he is still going through.

Pryor not only had to change his throwing motion - which had somewhat of a side-arm release initially - but he also had to learn to read defenses, make correct decisions, work on the correct footwork, and even perfect the quarterback-center exchange.

During Pryor's recruitment in which the quarterback was considered the top prospect in the class of 2008, it was well known the he wanted to go somewhere that would help him grow into an NFL quarterback prospect.

Ohio State's coaching staff has done its best to do that, not only for Pryor's potential future in the NFL, but also to help him develop into the passer that could take the Buckeyes to a national title before he leaves Columbus.

"We could have put him in the (shotgun) every snap," Siciliano said of Pryor's early days at Ohio State. "He had to learn to take snaps from under center, which he had never done before. It's a whole different deal (at Ohio State). But if you come out here in January, he's out here at 6 a.m. working on his drops, throwing the ball into the net every day.

"There s not a day he doesn't come to work, that's why it is very rewarding to see the things he can do on the field now."

During spring practices Pryor's release has noticeably improved for the better, as it looks like the junior has done a good job of following through over the top. Doing so improves accuracy and is easier on his arm, Siciliano said.

Pryor now has another off-season filled with spring and fall camp to build off perhaps his most impressive performance as a Buckeye in the Rose Bowl win over Oregon in which he threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns before being named the game's MVP.

The coaches have noted that Pryor has been more calm and relaxed since spring has started, drastically improving his presence in the pocket and hitting his spots on timing routes, things he has struggled with in the past.

"You cans see how calm he is now as apposed to when he started last year," said wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell. "He's so much more relaxed and so much more in command of the guys around him and making the throws now he needs to make.

"The thing I see him doing much better now than he did last year, he's finding his check-down receivers, standing tall in the pocket, he's not getting antsy."

Pryor feels his game is at a whole new level, too.

"Things are clearer. It just seems like I finally understand why my coach wants me to do certain stuff like keep my chin down and open my hips while I'm dropping," Pryor said. "You can see the whole field and know where you're going before pre-snap. Then you get into the habit of using the snap count to your advantage, bringing the defensive line off to help the offensive line.

"All that stuff comes in and stuff slows down for you," he added. "Then you have to worry about the (play) clock and you can just read and read and take it down to five seconds and hike the ball. There are a lot of things that are so much clearer to me (now)."

The work is still far from over and both Pryor and his coaches will be the first to say it, especially after a rough jersey scrimmage outing Saturday that saw the quarterback finish 5-for-16 passing for 45 yards.

But Pryor feels as if he is ready to take the next step as the leader of this team, which will result in a bigger playbook, Hazell said.

Siciliano has said that he would never sacrifice a football game for the NFL, but Ohio State's coaching staff has made preparing Pryor for the next level and helping him grow within what the program wants to do the same thing.

After somewhat shutting Pryor down the final five games of last season after a four-turnover game at Purdue led to the loss, the coaching staff handed the quarterback the playbook in the Rose Bowl and allowed him to make plays.

That could happen the entire season in 2010 and Pryor feels as if he is ready to take that next step with his teammates. That step, too, will help Pryor become a better NFL prospect in the next two years.

"This is a professional offense," Pryor said. "We run a professional offense. When it's time for me to go (to the NFL), I'll be ready."

For now, though, Pryor is poised for perhaps the most important season of his maturation process with the Buckeyes.

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

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