Terrelle Pryor may not have lit up the passing game in Friday's first practice of rookie minicamp. But those with the Bengals were talking about his intangibles he brought to a field of untried NFL neophytes and the command he had of the offense in his first work with the old scheme in four years. That could boost his effort to stick around.
Pryor may have had to deal with wrong depths, choppy patterns, and dropped balls. But he guided his receivers with a few encouraging words or an arm draped around the shoulder or a hint to help with the play call. Whether that's enough to get him signed Sunday afternoon after camp is another matter.
But it sure sounds like the coaches like him.
"Terrell has a presence. This is not his first rodeo," said head coach Marvin Lewis of the three-year veteran. "He has a confidence about him. He's a great role model for six or seven veteran players to watch how a guy who came into the NFL is looking to get an opportunity just to make the team and the urgency in his step. That's a good role model for these guys to observe. Even guys who have been here a couple of years. The urgency shows how important this is for him."
Pryor, the former Raiders quarterback, is here because his head coach for one season in Oakland in 2011, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, has enormous confidence in him.
Pryor looked to be a little slow in his delivery and cornerbacks like Onterio McCalebb were able to break on some balls. But Jackson thought his accuracy was good, considering he didn't play anywhere last season.
"I thought the guy hit a lot of balls and did a lot of good things for the first time being back around me in a number of years," Jackson said after practice. "I was impressed with what he did today.
"I think he had a decent day for the first time coming out and taking care of the ball and running our offense. The guy just got here yesterday and he walked out there today and did some good things. So we'll keep going from there…For a guy to just show up from being someplace else and walk in here, that's a tribute to him that he spent the time last night. I don't know how long he stayed here. I know I left, he probably was here all night grinding -- knowing him -- that he knew what to do."
Pryor checks a lot of the boxes. He's the most athletic quarterback they've got, his arm strength is excellent, and Jackson says his accuracy is better than that rookie that came out of Ohio State. If they sign him, it's assumed he'd be pushing Josh Johnson for the No. 3 job.
The intriguing thing about the 6-6, 240-pound Pryor is what he can give you as an athlete/quarterback. Pryor says he can only play quarterback. But that wouldn't stop Jackson from using his different skills from that spot.
It will be recalled that it is not Bo Jackson's 92-yard run against the Bengals in 1990 that is the longest rush in Raiders' history. It is the 93-yard zone read Pryor ran against the Steelers in 2013.
"Pretty damn good," said Jackson when asked about Pryor's ability to run the read option or whatever you want to call it. "I think he'd be very good at it. We all know that. The guy ran 4.3 coming out. He can run. I think he still can run. Again, I don't want to get my hopes up about anything other than watching what he does every day and we'll take it from there.
Bengals host rookie mini camp at Paul Brown Stadium practice fields
"There's a lot of things he can do in my opinion, but again, we don't know where all of this is going to end up. I know right now had been a good first day, it's good to be around him again, I think he's a talented young man, he's a good young man, he works hard and for that I'm glad that he's around us right now."
Translation: we won't know until Sunday.
USC cornerback Josh Shaw, their first fourth-round pick, jumped out right away. First of all, the 6-0, 200-pounder just stands out because he's so big. And he got his hands on a few balls and looked as if he was able to stay with 4.25 40 burner Mario Alford. It looks the Bengals have found one of these guys you know can be legit from day one.
"I noticed Josh a little more out there today because of the position he plays," said Lewis when he talked about his young braniac DBs, Shaw and sixth-round safety Derron Smith. "He's going to be good. He's going to be ahead of the curve that way, and that's a good thing. I feel good about that. We just need to teach him to play the game as an NFL DB and not a college DB."
Lewis smiled when asked about the difference.
"Hands,' he said, which means Shaw has to keep his hands off people or he's going to be bombarded by penalty flags.
It sure looks like Alford, the West Virginia wide receiver taken in the seventh round, is going to be a hard guy to keep off the roster. He's got difference-making speed. He's the fastest guy they've got among rookies veterans, anybody, and that includes fellow wide receivers Marvin Jones and A.J. Green.
When he took off on a go route wearing No. 15 (the number of the last deep threat from West Virginia to play for the Bengals, the late Chris Henry) , cornerbacks coach Vance Joseph barked, "Who's 15? Hey, you're fast."
What is going to decide Alford's fate is his ability to catch the ball and figure out the offense. He dropped one ball over the middle and Jackson let him know about it.
"He can run. I mean, he dropped the ball and I told him I didn't want to see that. I made that very clear because I think he has a lot of talent," Jackson said. "So he's one I'm going to kind of put my hand on along with (receivers) coach (James) Urban and we'll see if we can push him to where he needs to be. But you can see the speed, you can see the suddenness and the quickness and that's what we're looking for, and I think he has it."
Another key thing he'll need to do is give special teams coach Darrin Simmons trust that he can catch punts, which is what he has to do before he returns them. Simmons can't find any game punt returns in college, although there are plenty of kickoffs. Alford returned two for TDs last season.
"I don't know if you teach him from scratch," Simmons said. " But having never done it in a game, the decision-making process and just simulating what he does on the play is from scratch. But not necessarily how to catch the ball."
Alford had a chance to catch three punts Friday and caught them, including one where had to run up to make a nice catch on a short one. "We didn't put one on the ground today, so that's good," Simmons said. Lewis is pretty confident he'll get through to Alford.
"Darrin will have him returning punts like he's been doing it his whole life. I don't think we will have any problems with that," Lewis said. "We have had a lot of guys around here that could never return a punt, and then Darrin has turned them into good catchers of the football. Then, it's the trust factor all the time. Getting lined up and making the correct decisions all the time. All of those things go into it."
But don't pencil in Alford as the successor to wide receiver Brandon Tate or as the returner that gives Adam Jones a breather just yet. And don't look for Alford to replace Jones as the top kick returner, since Jones is coming off an All Pro season doing it. Plus, Tate is 15 returns shy of the franchise record for career punt returns and 141 yards shy of the franchise record for punt return yards. That's a lot of clean catches.
Alford will have to impress to win some time.
"We've got an All Pro and a franchise leader," Simmons said. "We've got two good guys he's trying to bypass. But I think competition breeds top performances."
Another reason Alford stood out. He wore gold cleats, a no-no from the Chad Johnson days, and Jackson coached the Bengals receivers for three of those Saturday Night Live seasons.
"We're not going there. Not going there," Jackson said. "They're gold. Marvin told them whatever shoes they needed for the first day until they can work into our shoes, they can do it. So they got away with it today but pretty soon they need to be in Bengal issue."
Paul Dawson, the third-round linebacker out of Texas Christian, changed his name on the roster to P.J. Dawson, but he didn't change the way he practices. He likes to talk on the field and he also warned the defensive coaches before practice he was going to vomit at some point early in practice, "Then I'll be all right."
Dawson wasted no time and appeared to guff after the first drill. He's got a rep for not always being in shape, but he also has a rep for leaving everything out on the field on game days. It looked like more of the latter on Friday.
You know you've got a big tight ends group when most of them have a few inches on tight ends coach Jon Hayes, 6-5 and a 12-year NFL tight end. The two draft picks, third-rounder Tyler Kroft (6-6) and fifth-rounder C.J. Uzomah (6-6) have a hair on Hayes. And he has to look up to the two free agents, 6-8 John Peters out of Cincinnati's Mount St. Joseph, and 6-8Matt Lengel out of Eastern Kentucky. The short guy is 6-4 Jake Murphy out of Utah who was on the Bengals practice squad for the last two months of the season.
In order to be eligible for this weekend's minicamp, a current player on the club couldn't have built up a year toward the pension fund off of service last year. It's why a guy like Murphy could work, but not quarterback AJ McCarron, who spent most of the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Current veterans working besides Pryor, McCalebb, and Murphy are wide receivers Cobi Hamilton and Tevin Reese, running back James Wilder, and tackle Matthew O'Donnell.
Second-round pick Jake Fisher is going to fit right into the offensive line. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is going to have him play a different position each workout. On Friday he worked at left tackle. On Saturday morning he'll go to left guard, go to right guard in the afternoon and right tackle on Sunday morning to end the camp.
He's already been introduced to the line, thanks to left tackle Andrew Whitworth's invitation to watch Fight Night on Saturday night. While Whitworth seeks clarity about his future with the club, he put Fisher at ease.
"Very welcoming," Fisher said. "He's a seasoned vet. He's mature. He's smart at what he does. It was great to be a part of the group."
Nine years ago the Bengals took a high character left tackle in the second round. Whitworth.
"He's going to be the guy that I model my game after," Fisher said. "He's going to play his game, I'm going to play mine and we'll mesh together."