Coming of Age - Pryor the Pocket Passer?

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It's no secret that Ohio State is thinking big in 2010.  It's also no secret that for the Buckeyes to have any chance of reaching the pinnacle of the sport, they'll need quarterback Terrelle Pryor to make major strides this offseason.

In the wake of an MVP performance in the Rose Bowl Game against Oregon (23/37, 266 yards, 2 touchdowns, 72 yards rushing), Pryor enters the clubhouse with momentum squarely in his corner.  The question now is can he make the turn -- developing from a moderately accurate pocket passer into a dangerous aerial threat?

The Rose Bowl Game showed us that Pryor can manage a balanced run/pass attack.  Let's take a look at a few areas in which Pryor grew, and a few areas where there's still work to be done.

The Good

1. Pocket Patience

It was a common scenario in 2009.  Pryor took the snap and fell back directly into the arc of the converging end rush.  When he felt the peripheral pressure, he panicked -- running laterally towards the sideline for short gains, or chucking the ball out of bounds.  You can imagine my surprise then, when time after time in the Rose Bowl Game, Pryor stepped forward into the pocket, keeping his eyes on potential targets up field.

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Figure 1: Pryor steps up.

In many cases, the adjustment resulted in defensive ends over-pursuing their rush, buying Pryor valuable time.

2. Check Offs & Multiple Reads

Perhaps the biggest area of growth in Pryor's passing prowess was the number of times he either checked off at the line of scrimmage, changing the play to suit the coverage, or hit someone other than his first receiver.  Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to watching Pryor burn holes into the uniforms of target receivers, resulting in jumped routes, and tipped passes. 

Pryor displayed his newly found read skills in the waning minutes of the first quarter of the Rose Bowl.  On first and ten at midfield Tressel called for a drop-back pass.

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Figure 1: Ohio State lines up in the shotgun, max protect.

As Pryor drops back he's keyed in on Jake Ballard over the middle, but he notices that Brandon Saine -- coming out of the backfield -- is in one on one coverage with Oregon Defensive End Kenny Rowe

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Figure 2: Saine slips out of the backfield.

Pryor steps forward into the pocket.  He releases the ball before Saine gets any separation.

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Figure 3: Release.

And the payoff.  Pryor floats an easy throw down the sidelines.  Saine easily blows past Kenny Rowe and has 4-5 yards of breathing room as he makes the catch.

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Figure 4: The Catch.

With the yards after the catch tacked on, Pryor's read resulted in a 46 yard play that set Ohio State up to take a 10-0 lead.

3. Timing

The Rose Bowl showed that Pryor is beginning to connect with the rhythm of his receivers as their routes develop.  On multiple occasions (like the one above), Pryor released the ball at just the right time, allowing his wideouts to make catches in stride.

4. Placement

With this look-back Peyton Manning style hook to Devier Posey, Pryor appears to be developing a knack for putting the ball where only his receiver can make the play. 

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Figure 1: The ball comes in over Posey's left shoulder, preventing the defender from interfering with the catch.

Still Needs Improvement

1. Coverage Reads

Although Pryor has gotten better at making decisions before the snap, he's still occasionally frustrated by complex coverages.  A perfect example of this was his lone Rose Bowl interception.  Pryor saw Devier Posey breaking down the sideline, but failed to notice a closing free safety until he released the ball.

A commitment to film study this offseason will make Pryor a smarter signal caller. 

2. Release

Despite gains in accuracy, Pryor's release is still a bit elongated.  His failure to always plant his feet and turn on his hips causes the ball to waffle as it wings towards the target.

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