At age 62, the spring of Ken Anderson's renaissance is continuing into summer with a high-profile coaching assignment. Now that he's tutoring the most scrutinized undrafted free agent in football as former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor tries to show the NFL he's a quarterback and not a wide receiver/tight end athlete, Anderson's Pro Football Hall of Fame profile now includes the tagline of quarterback guru.
"It's fun. I like working with young guys. I like working with rookies," says Anderson, who had plenty as the quarterbacks coach for three teams during 17 seasons coaching in the league. "I think the kid's got a future in front of him (as an NFL quarterback). I think he's got a shot. It's fun to work with someone with all that talent."
Of course, the devout Anderson fans knew their Bengals franchise quarterback was a guru long before Pryor was born in 1989, three years after Anderson retired. He wrote "The Art of Quarterbacking" while winning four NFL passing titles with mechanics as precise as his passes, and could take on his own players in accuracy contests up until he retired from the Steelers in 2009.
"Terrelle likes him and Kenny has a good way with kids," says Ken Herock, a former NFL personnel man who schools prospects for the draft with his ProPrep service. "He's not pushy and he can get guys to listen. After watching the workouts, you can tell it's a good match."
While his name caught fire a few months ago in his first year of senior eligibility for the Hall, Anderson returned to Cincinnati this spring to run a couple of elite high school quarterback camps because he can't keep that big right hand out of it.
In Pryor he has welcomed a 6-6 vat of talent to sculpt in preparation for the supplemental draft that does not have a date yet. If Pryor has it all but the mechanics, then he has a coach that has all the mechanics. Anderson, who also coached the Bengals and Jaguars quarterbacks, has been working with Pryor for a couple of weeks and returns to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., next week as they prepare for a Pro Day once the NFL scouts are no longer locked out.
As Ohio State announced its self-imposed sanctions Friday stemming from a scandal in which Pryor is at the center, he finished up another session with Anderson.
"I just talked to him about an hour ago and he was really down," Herock says. "I thought when I came down to meet him that he was going to be a pain in the neck. But he's really a great kid and I told him that I know it's extremely tough, but life moves on and you have to too."
Herock, a tight end on that first Bengals team in 1968, knows that other coaches have worked with the big-name quarterbacks in the last few drafts. But he's advised Pryor to stick with this one coach.
"I told Terrelle that with Kenny he's got one of the best," Herock says. "We could bring in another guy to work on his release or something like that, but you don't want different guys teaching you different things and with Kenny you get it all. He's an excellent teacher of mechanics. He's concentrating on his footwork and balance to help with accuracy. Terrelle really has a solid motion. He throws a tight ball."
It is, Anderson believes, a lot more difficult to learn the position nowadays when he thinks back to 40 springs ago and a Bengals quarterbacks/receivers coach named Bill Walsh began schooling him in the West Coast offense right after he was taken in the third round of the 1971 draft out of Augustana College.
"The draft was in January and I moved to Cincinnati two weeks later," Anderson recalls. "I met with Bill every month until we went away to training camp, where we had eight weeks and six preseason games. There was just a lot more time to learn, not only off the field, but on the field. They just don't have that time now. Not with preseason games starting two weeks before you start camp."
And that's in a normal year. Take this year, where the lockout has wiped out all spring practice and coaching time for Bengals rookie quarterback
"It's certainly not ideal, but the one day they did (lift) the lockout, they were allowed to give players playbooks," he says. "So I would imagine (Dalton) has been at least able to study it and memorize some terms. And when I've seen them practicing on TV, it looks like he's been there, so that's at least something."
Pryor hasn't had any of that, but he has had Anderson in his ear on the most important mechanical topics. Anderson's take on what he would like to see in Pryor's Pro Day literally begins with a step.
"I would like to see it where his drops are really crisp and he shows good balance while he's throwing," Anderson says. "The big thing with a rookie is getting him comfortable with his footwork and getting him used to taking the snap from center. These guys don't take all shotgun snaps and Terrelle has taken some from under center so it's not all that new for him. It's just getting used to it."
Anderson says Pryor has good football knowledge and is able to talk the Xs and Os with a good grasp.
"He's been a good kid to me. He does what you ask and he's a very hard worker. I like him," Anderson says. "He's a perfectionist. He wants to know how he's doing and I like that. The tough thing is I'd like to be able to teach him an offense, but wherever he goes it's going to be a different offense. So we're getting him ready for his Pro Day, talking about blitzes and protections, when to throw it hot. We watch video that's not all that extensive, but we can talk about the basics and going through his progressions."
The big question isn't who is going to take Pryor, but what are they going to take him as: a QB or a wide receiver? The Bengals probably aren't having an in-depth discussion about Pryor because they've got plenty of both that are raw and wouldn't seem to have an interest in him. But Anderson believes Pryor can get a shot to play QB at the next level for somebody.
"He's got an NFL arm," he says. "Some have had better arms than him that have made it and some haven't had as good an arm and have made it. He's obviously a tremendous athlete and he's made a lot of throws while running. He certainly has a lot of the tools you need."
A big thing Anderson likes about Pryor is his motion.
"I think if you watch film on him, you like his motion," he says. "He's a got a quick release and his delivery is real good. You like the way he delivers the ball."
After next week, everyone is waiting. But it looks likes Anderson isn't going away with the Pro Football Hall of Fame senior committee sitting down next month. As usual, the low-profile Anderson has his laser focus on the ground and is ready to throw the ball around again.
"This is fun," he says. "I'm looking forward to next week when we've got four days on the field."
Hall of Fame selectors can only vote on a player's on-field credentials. But the visibility won't hurt.
"The guy has his career going for him. It was a great career. He was one of the best," Herock says. "And he just happened to be a good coach for a long time."