SEATTLE -- Terrelle Pryor has to wonder what might have been, in many different ways.
Had he been nailed for bartering merchandise for tattoos (and autographs for thousands of dollars, and accepting cars, and heavens knows what else!) a few years later, when the NCAA had a miniature pony to ride as opposed to its previous high horse, he might not have been suspended for five games by the NCAA, chosen to leave the Ohio State program, and subsequently suspended for five games by the NFL in an interesting disciplinary cross-promotion. If he was Johnny Manziel in 2013 and not Terrell Pryor in 2010, he might have ended his escapades (whatever they had been) with a few months of bad press, a half-day of meetings with a couple NCAA bag men, and a half-game suspension for his trouble.
Then again, maybe not. The NCAA found far more on Pryor than it did on Manziel, but it could be argued that the NCAA was far more inclined to look back then.
Had Pryor been selected in the 2011 supplemental draft by an NFL team other than the Oakland Raiders -- a franchise that has seen more than its fair share of organizational and personnel upheaval in the last three seasons -- he might be on a faster track to NFL success at his position.
Then again, maybe not. Many NFL teams saw Pryor as a potential receiver or H-back when he came out of college the hard way. A high percentage of scouts thought him a limited passer who would be confounded by NFL defenses, and no amount of recent option success in the NFL was going to change the minds of certain people. At this level, you either get it, or you don't.
"I was at an Ohio State practice a couple years ago," one scout told TheMMQB.com Editor-in-Chief Peter King of Pryor in June, 2011, "and he was so wild that they had to scale back what they were doing so his confidence wouldn't be ruined. His accuracy is going to be a real problem."
Over two years removed from that, Pryor has a legitimate shot at the Raiders' starting job. Veteran Matt Flynn was acquired in an offseason trade with the same Seattle Seahawks team that beat these Raiders, 22-6 on Thursday night at Seattle's CenturyLink Field, but he has struggled with injuries and inconsistent performance. The Raiders have a woeful offensive line, rookie quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Matt McGloin clearly aren't ready for prime time, and Pryor has at least proven that he can make plays out of structure, which is pretty much the only one can make plays in this particular offense. It's tough sledding for your team when the guy who completes three of eight passes for 31 yards and an interception is your best possible quarterback given the circumstances, but things are what they are.
After the game, head coach Dennis Allen said that he knew who his Week 1 starter would be, but refused to disclose the answer for competitive reasons. That said, he was impressed with Pryor when he ran three times for 48 yards.
"This guy is a good athlete who can create and make some plays with his feet. I think with him managing the huddle, there is more meat on the bone there we've got to try and improve on. In a loud stadium, I don't think we had a lot of execution errors as far as snap count and cadence and that type of stuff. In that regard, I was pleased."
For his part, Pryor was most unhappy about the pick he threw to Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond with 10:07 left in the first half. He heaved up a long ball down the left sideline in the general direction of receiver Jacoby Ford, and Thurmond basically caught a pop fly. That was a regression Pryor couldn't afford with so much on the line.
In the Raiders' locker room after the game, the subject turned to the Terrelle Pryor of today, and the Terrelle Pryor who played at Ohio State -- on and off the field. I wanted to know how this quarterback is different from that one -- what he has learned.
"Accuracy, and timing with receivers," he said. "I think I've definitely gotten better with that. Making strides. Today, I threw one to Rod [Streater], and he wasn't even out of his break yet. That's just throwing with timing and understanding where he's going to be. What I did badly today? Throwing that pick. I was late [on the throw], and that's something that can't happen. We were moving the ball, and got three points two times, and I believe we could have kept it moving on the first drive. We've just got to make that play."
Then, I wanted to know how he felt about the NCAA with the benefit of hindsight, and how that process had marked him and those around him.
"At the end of the day, it's their world," he said. "They get to choose and set the rules. All I can do is speak for myself. I broke rules, and I paid for it. I don't know if Manziel did or not -- that's not my business. But at the end of the day, I broke a rule, I learned from it, and I now understand that I can't do that type of stuff.
"When I was young ... I made those mistakes when I was 18. I took it as a man, and I'm moving on."
What did he learn from it? "Just being responsible. Understanding ... I was greedy, taking money. I learned quite a bit about not being selfish in those terms. I was young when I made that mistake, and if I could have it back, I'd go a different route and make better decisions. It was a poor choice when I made it, but all I can speak on is myself. It was just setting forth that in terms of the NCAA, you have to do everything right."
Many have opined in recent months that the NCAA's system is unfair at best and slightly criminal at worst. Pryor, for all his misdeeds, was also a pawn in a system run by people who could sell his jersey and insisted that he could not. The Manziel issue brought that point to a sharper focus than we saw back then, and I thought it was a good time to ask Pryor -- does he think that system is fair?
"Well, I can talk about that," he said with a wry smile. "I've heard a number of people say that it's almost like, um..."
His voice trailed off, and he looked to one of the Raiders' PR people.
"I don't know -- I can't really say. I don't agree with it, and I do believe it's using. Should I give my opinion on that?"
The answer was a silent "no" -- a simple shake of the head -- and that was that.
Then again, maybe not.
"I wish I could, man -- I'd have something to tell you." Perhaps another time. For now, Terrelle Pryor has an NFL career to try and construct under some very interesting circumstances. At the very least, he's used to that.