Is Hue Jackson Terrelle Pryor’s guardian angel? Well, that might be a stretch, but it sure seems wherever Pryor lands in the NFL, Jackson is somewhere to be found.
It began in 2011 when Pryor ran afoul of NCAA rules while at Ohio State and applied for the supplemental draft. A phenomenal athlete, Pryor was intent on playing quarterback in the NFL, and he was selected by the Raiders in the third round.
That became stop one for Pryor and Jackson, who was Oakland’s head coach at the time. Pryor played sparingly with the Raiders during his first two seasons (Jackson was gone after 2011), but did start nine games in 2013, passing for 1,798 yards and scoring on an electrifying 93-yard touchdown run.
But he didn’t last in Oakland, bouncing to Seattle in 2014, Kansas City in the 2015 offseason and then Cincinnati before being released in June of that year.
That was stop two with Jackson, who was then the Bengals’ offensive coordinator. It was after being claimed on waivers by the Browns that Pryor had his epiphany, which was helped along by Jackson, obviously never having a clue he would be with Pryor for stop three after becoming Cleveland’s head coach this year.
Jackson had the sense then that Pryor should try to make the difficult switch to wide receiver, but never broached it while the two were together in Cincinnati.
“I’ll never forget last year when he was with me in Cincinnati for a little while and wanted to be a quarterback,” Jackson told Cleveland.com recently.
“I didn’t have enough confidence to ask him to change positions at that time, and that’s why we let him go to be honest with you — because I felt like he needed to make a decision about what he needed to do.”
Of course, Jackson cunningly helped that happen. He spoke to Pryor’s confidant Craig Austin and made a simple suggestion: “I said, ‘Tell him that maybe he needs to play receiver and do it full-time.’ He made that decision, and he has never looked back. I think we see the fruit of his hard work. That’s what it is. He’s worked extremely hard and that’s what you see.”
Pryor recalled, “We had talks, me, Hue and Craig Austin. That’s one of his best friends. He was like a surrogate father/mentor. We all had a decision and talked and came to a conclusion.”
A hamstring injury limited what he could accomplish and he was waived by the Browns in September. But he was re-signed in early December, and in the final game of the season against Pittsburgh, Pryor provided a glimpse of his capabilities with a 42-yard reception.
That set the stage for dedicating himself to improving during the offseason. He came to camp prepared and wowed Browns fans with two touchdowns in their annual Orange and Brown scrimmage Aug. 6, including one of 75 yards. Then, in the preseason opening loss to Green Bay last Friday, Pryor started and had two receptions for 57 yards, one a 49-yarder and the other for 8 yards on third-and-6.
Jackson likes what he sees. He said, “Terrelle has done a great job. It started in the offseason, it’s continued through training camp and he’s got to continue to get better. I think he’ll only get better if he continues to work, which I truly believe he will, and stay focused.”
Making the change Pryor is trying is unusual, especially after beginning his NFL days as a quarterback. College quarterback Antwaan Randle-El did it in with the Steelers, but he started his NFL career as a receiver. Marlin Briscoe accomplished it with the Broncos in the late 1960s, playing quarterback as a rookie in 1968, and moving to receiver the next season. But examples are few and far between.
Pointing out that “this is really a hard transition for anybody to make,” Browns senior offensive assistant Al Saunders said, “We couldn’t be any happier than where Terrelle is right now, but he knows he has a lot of things to work on and a lot of things to improve on and that it’s not all going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time. This is his first exposure to that position, but myself personally, I couldn’t be any more thrilled with where he is right now.
“Every day we see things that he does better than the day before.”
After the scrimmage, quarterback Robert Griffin III said of the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Pryor, “He’s a big guy, physical. He’s got an elite trait that you can’t coach, and that’s size. He’s been able to utilize that while he’s been in camp and in the spring. We love the progress that he’s made.”
Clearly, the Browns are a work in progress, but some offensive optimism exists because of the presence of Pryor, first-round receiver Corey Coleman and the return of Josh Gordon, although he will miss the first four games of the season under league suspension.
Still, with all of them now on the practice field, it has Jackson excited.
When asked about the potential of that threesome, Jackson said, “There are a lot of thoughts that go through my mind. I can’t tell you all of them, but they are a talented trio. Those guys have size, they have speed, they have length, they have the ability to make plays on the ball.
“That’s exciting, but we haven’t had them all out there together (much). Hopefully we can in the future and that all works out, get all these guys out there playing together.”
Pryor was also glad to see Gordon back on the practice field Monday after a quad injury kept him on the sideline for the first 20 days of camp.
Concluded Pryor, “Josh was talking to coach Saunders today. He said, ‘This is one of the best receiving corps since I’ve been here. It’s the best receiving corps.’ The guys on this field, all 13 receivers we have, these guys, we can play. Guys can play. It’s exciting. For myself, just the progress I’ve made and to actually just to be out there battling with corners and being able to beat corners man-to-man and getting off presses pretty easy now, it’s the ultimate competitive sport and I love it to death.”
And that competitiveness and passion is paying off for Pryor as he develops into the receiver he originally didn’t want to be.