The day before he reported to Cleveland Browns training camp, two days before he could be seen on social media catching passes from Johnny Manziel, Terrelle Pryor sounds excited. It’s late, he’s spent the day in meetings and ensuring all his equipment is ready to go, and he probably needs some sleep. But he’s not in a hurry. If anything, he seems happy to talk.
“I appreciate you calling me and giving me an interview,” Pryor says.
Pryor’s demeanor over the phone is that of a humbled man. During an NFL career in which he’s been a member of four teams in three years and with a 3-5 record as a starting quarterback, Pryor is now trying to catch on as a wide receiver.
“You’re dealing with, ‘Am I going to make this roster?’” Pryor says. “I’ve been cut [by other teams.] I’ve been told ‘no’ so many different times. I don’t think I have any fear.”
A 6-foot-5, 230-pound physical specimen from Jeannette, Pennsylvania, Pryor was one of the most hyped athletes in recent memory coming out of high school when he landed at Ohio State. He was a powerful dual-threat quarterback who could launch a 60-yard pass with the flick of his wrist just as easily as he could speed past a defender after escaping the pocket.
In three years at OSU, Pryor led the Buckeyes to a 33-6 record, including a victory over the high-powered Oregon Ducks in the 2010 Rose Bowl. But then: scandal. Pryor was a part of the tattoos-for-autographs scheme that earned OSU a one-year bowl ban and led to head coach Jim Tressell’s resignation. Pryor left for the NFL in disgrace, falling to the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft.
Pryor got off to a promising start with the Raiders, winning the starting QB job out of training camp in 2013 and propelling the Raiders to early wins over the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers before the losses began piling up. An MCL injury broke Pryor’s hold on the starting job he’d never reclaim.
The following year, the Raiders traded Pryor to Seattle, but the Seahawks promptly released him after the pre-season ended. In January of 2015, he signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, only to be released again a few months later. Finally, he signed with Cincinnati until the team waived him in June. Pryor was running out of options, but after playing the highest-profile position in the NFL, he knew he could take on whatever came next.
“I think quarterback is the hardest position you can possibly play,” Pryor says. “I work my butt off. I look at it as like, whatever is going to happen will happen.”
To give himself one more shot at playing in the NFL, Pryor made the switch to wide receiver. The Cleveland Browns, intrigued, signed him off waivers. The team’s plan is to let him fight for a job in training camp.
Pryor spent the rest of the off-season working to make sure it’s a fight he can win. He linked up with former NFL star Randy Moss—another tall, physical receiver—who was leading a camp in North Carolina. There, Pryor trained alongside elites like Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Steve Smith Sr. Moss put all of them through the wringer.
“We’d do a workout for an hour and be running the whole time,” Pryor says. “Out of nowhere Randy would say, ‘Alright, let’s go. Seven routes.’ [Randy’s] tough, so he’d give me at least three or four deep routes in a row. And you HAVE to catch the ball. If you don’t, it’s 45 Push-Ups. After each route, you have to sprint back. It’s just killer, man.”
Pryor also used a technique called hypoxic training, in which he performed exercises under water, depriving his body of oxygen. He swam under water as far as he could until he had to surface—15 times in a row. He says the training increased his lung capacity to levels he hadn’t imagined while keeping his legs fresh to run more routes at full speed.
“I didn’t really notice how big of a difference being in the water could help me in terms of running on land. Who would really think of that?” Pryor said. “That really taught me something about how to take care of your body. Managing your body but still getting work in.”
The conditioning helped Pryor lose 10 pounds, taking him down from 240 to 230. He still has the speed that let him reel off 93-yard touchdown runs as a QB. His challenge will be getting that big, fast body to move smoothly in and out of breaks as a receiver.
Despite training at the position for less than a full off-season, after working with some of the top wideouts in the game, Pryor likes his chances as a pass-catcher.
“It doesn’t feel like I’m far off,” Pryor says. “Are [more experienced receivers] going to be more savvy when corners are on their backs? Yeah, probably. But when I left Randy last Saturday, he told me, ‘The sky’s the limit. You’ve got the athletic ability. That’s not a question.’”
Also not in question is Pryor’s confidence. “I think I’m the best on the field any time I’m stepping on it, whether it’s true or not. That’s how I feel,” he says.
The question that needs to be answered in the coming weeks is whether head coach Mike Pettine and the rest of the Browns coaching staff think Pryor is good enough to keep him on the field. After the first day of camp, Pettine said Pryor had a “solid” day but “has to learn how to get out of press coverage.” It’s an issue Pryor had anticipated.
“It’s not the straightaway speed [I need to work on], it’s getting out of your breaks when you’ve got Joe Haden, Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson on your back,” Pryor says.
If the former Buckeye doesn’t make the Browns’ 53-man roster, it won’t be for lack of trying. Pryor refuses to handicap himself and says he expects not only to be on the team, but to be a big-time player.
“I want to be great at everything I’m doing,” Pryor says. “I don’t like excuses. I won’t use excuses. I expect to perform at a high level. That’s just what it is.”