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Commentary: Terrelle Pryor’s future in Oakland, NFL hinges on first pro start

Lantern file photo

It has been nearly two full years since Terrelle Pryor was the starting quarterback in a football game.

But at the close of his second season in the NFL, the former Ohio State quarterback will finally get his chance to shine for the Oakland Raiders (4-11) in their regular-season finale Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Pryor’s OSU career is greatly defined by his role in the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal, which forced the program to vacate all wins from Pryor’s final season in 2010, and cost them the opportunity to play in a bowl game this season.

After originally making a promise to then-coach Jim Tressel to return for his senior season, he ended up breaking that promise by entering the 2011 NFL Supplemental Draft.

Oakland used a third-round pick in the supplemental draft to select Pryor, but 16 weeks into his second NFL season, he has only thrown two passes in regular-season games.

The Raiders’ regular starting quarterback, former No. 1 overall pick and 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, suffered a rib injury last week against the Carolina Panthers. That opened the door for Pryor, who Raiders coach Dennis Allen chose as his starting quarterback over Matt Leinart, also once a top-10 draft pick and 2004 Heisman Trophy winner out of USC.

Pryor now has an important opportunity to take advantage of Sunday. The Raiders have had a disappointing season, winning just four games, and as a result, they could decide to make a change from Palmer at quarterback next season. If Pryor has any chance of being their starting quarterback next season, he needs to play well in his first true test as an NFL quarterback on Sunday.

The outlook for Pryor as a starting NFL quarterback isn’t necessarily promising – he completed less than 60 percent of his passes in this year’s preseason – but it is the right move for the Raiders on Sunday.

If the Raiders are contemplating a quarterback change next season, they need to evaluate the talent already on their roster, and Pryor is a young quarterback with an impressive physical skill set. Leinart, now on his third NFL team after being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, has been a bust: he has a career completion rate of 57.1 and has thrown more interceptions (21) than touchdowns (15).

Leinart’s contract expires at the end of the season, and it is highly unlikely the Raiders will consider him in their quarterback competition next season. Pryor, on the other hand, should remain in the mix next season with two years left on his contract, and is a 23-year-old with a big arm, great athletic ability and the potential to be an NFL playmaker if he can overcome his struggles with passing accuracy and decision-making.

While Pryor’s OSU career will forever be tarnished by his off-field mistakes, he had an impressive on-field career for the Buckeyes. Including vacated games, Pryor threw for more than 6,000 yards and ran for more than 2,000, while he completed 57 touchdown passes, ran for 17 touchdowns and even caught two passes in the end zone.

For the most part, the Raiders’ game on Sunday may seem like a meaningless contest, as both the Raiders and 6-9 Chargers are eliminated from the playoffs already. It will not be for Pryor, however, whose performance Sunday could have a direct impact on whether he ever gets a shot to be a full-time starting quarterback in the NFL.


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