December 15, 2017

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After humble start, ‘Superman’ Terrelle Pryor continues WR education

The ability to dominate a cornerback one-on-one when executing a slant is the hallmark of a successful wide receiver, according to Redskins wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. (0:49)

MONROEVILLE, Pa. — During a quick break between drills last week, Washington Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor expressed a confidence that stemmed from his glory days — as a high school small forward. The conversation among his trainers and a couple of buddies had steered toward Russell Westbrook and triple-doubles when Pryor weighed in with his own NBA prediction:

“I could average 10 points and 10 rebounds,” he said.

Playful boast? Supreme confidence? Pryor left it up to others to decide; he wasn’t laughing but was he serious? Even those who know him best aren’t quite sure.

“He says it and everyone laughs, but in the back of your mind it’s, ‘I wonder if he could do that,'” said Tim Cortazzo, who has trained Pryor in this Pittsburgh suburb since he made the switch from quarterback to receiver 2½ years ago. “You can’t laugh him off. … He could do anything. He’s Superman.”

Terrelle Pryor has been working out five to six days a week with Tim Cortazzo, a former University of Toledo receiver. John Keim/ESPN

Perhaps he wouldn’t average 10 boards a night changing sports, but look what he’s done switching positions in the NFL, surpassing 1,000 yards in his first season at receiver. He was a third-round pick in 2011 who made 10 starts at quarterback his first three years with Oakland, was cut in his fourth year and moved to receiver in his fifth. It was an experiment that left him out of the NFL until late in the 2015 season. Last year, Pryor expected the success. But 77 catches and 1,007 yards in his first full season as a receiver? Not bad.

Except …

“I should have had 1,500 yards,” he said. “I’m not talking on nobody else; whatever happened happened. But I believe I was better than that. It was frustrating that I didn’t get more dominant numbers because I feel I can and I know I will. I can’t wait.”

If that happens, Pryor will be in line for a bigger contract than the one-year deal worth $6 million he signed with Washington in March. But he landed in a better situation than he left in Cleveland. He has a good quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and will be surrounded by other weapons (tight end Jordan Reed, receiver Jamison Crowder, among others). Pryor joined them Monday as offseason workouts began.

Humble beginning

Pryor’s personal growth could help those others as much as they’ll help him. That’s why he’s working out five to six days a week with Cortazzo, a former University of Toledo receiver. It’s why Pryor exchanges text messages with Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown and why he’ll work with former All-Pro receiver Randy Moss and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin this summer.

“I want a guy that has that mentality, who has that confidence he could beat anybody,” Cortazzo said. “It made the transition easier. But when we started, it was humbling. I remember one of the first days he stopped me and was like, ‘Tim, you’re the first person to make me feel like I’m a bad athlete,’ because I broke it down so much. I don’t know if he had anyone who would break down something he’s doing and try to fix the things he’s doing. You’ve got a freak athlete, why change it?”

Terrelle Pryor’s days as a quarterback help him understand the big picture and how each route connects. John Keim/ESPN

Pryor’s transition to receiver began with Cortazzo in May 2015. They worked 3½ hours a day, twice a day, to prepare for training camp. Pryor said he’d have to walk through every drill four times just to get the footwork down; he rarely needs to walk through once now.

“It was about making him look like a receiver,” Cortazzo said. “I started his drills with how I would start if a youth football player came to me saying, ‘I want to be a receiver.’ Now that we’ve surpassed the general phase, it’s about becoming savvy, recognizing different coverages.”

Advanced education

That education continues on a turf field near the Pennsylvania Turnpike in this Pittsburgh suburb. Pryor delayed his workouts until February after surgery on his right hand following the season. He has graduated from remedial work to the subtleties of the position. But Cortazzo provides constant reminders of the little things: sinking his hips; exploding out of breaks; pushing his feet off at the right time.

On a recent sunny, 60-degree day, Pryor runs through drills for 90 minutes with Cortazzo; Chris Rasky, his assistant from FSQ Sports Training; and Kez Genevro, a receiver from Clarion University hoping for a look from the NFL. After this, they’ll head to a converted Lions Club five minutes away to lift weights and work on more hand-eye coordination drills for 45 minutes.

But on the field, a lot of the work focuses on encouraging the 6-foot-4 Pryor to take shorter, choppier steps to help him explode in and out of brea