NFL coach press conferences are, in a lot of ways, like political debates. In both, the man (or woman in politics) at the podium is asked a variety of questions about how he views recent events and what he intends to do to correct or maintain the status quo. And in both, the man at the podium attempts to answer the questions by using a lot of buzz-words but not actually give his opponent any real information.
Dennis Allen has definitely become more adept in the last year at dissimilating when answering questions. He has certain words he likes to use and common refrains that he likes to fall back upon. He is by no means the most closed NFL head coach but he is not the most open, either (that would perhaps be “straight-shooter” Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone…?).
It is, then, essential to read between the lines of what Allen tells the mediato determine how he feels about his QBs – or any position, really. When asked about it, Allen’s typical response is something along the line of: ““Listen … I’m not ready to get into who’s creating separation and who’s creating distance.” This was the answer he gave on day 2 of training camp when asked about Pryor's performance versus Flynn's thus far in camp.
But just because we don’t have him weighing in on the QB depth chart doesn’t mean that we can’t make an educated guess on how Allen feels about his QBs. Take instead how Allen answered questions about the punting position. The following is part of a response to a question about erratic but talented young punter Marquette King. Allen said of King, “It’s consistency. It’s not really unlike any other position, but the guys that can be the most consistent in the National Football League, those end up being the best players.”
As you can see from the quote, Allen believes that consistency is paramount to the success of all players and positions in the NFL. The battle of the punters, talented but inconsistent Marquette King vs consistent but average veteran Chris Kluwe, is a good analogy for what is happening with the quarterbacks in Silver and Black.
There is a three way battle for starting QB position for the Raiders, currently, with veteran Matt Flynn competing with athletic former OSU QB Terrelle Pryor and promising rookie Tyler Wilson.
Each quarterback has their own area of strength. Flynn is the most NFL-experienced of the three, though his lack of actual playing time is comparable with Pryor’s. Flynn has the weakest arm of the three, instead relying upon his experience reading NFL defenses and his accurate short and mid-range passes to try to place the ball for open receivers and allow them to get yards after the catch.
Pryor is the most physically-gifted of the three. He’s got a strong arm and good, fast legs and so he’s able to be a double threat under center. Unfortunately for him, he was not taught proper throwing motion when coming up and his mechanics are not fundamentally sound. There are practices in which he has everything together and is able to connect his passes at all three levels and there are other practices in which he struggles with his accuracy because of his footwork.
Still, Pryor has worked hard this off-season to improve his mechanics and the work is paying off better than most expected. Pryor is certainly a contender to start under center for the Raiders.
The least likely to win the job outright at this point is rookie Tyler Wilson who is working with the third-team squad while attempting t0 transition from playing in college to the NFL. Wilson has a decent arm and moves well but he’s still a project and isn’t expected to start right away. The Raiders are unlikely to hurry him to start before they believe they are ready and he has not shown that he’s ready in training camp, thus far.
Flynn was named the starter coming into camp but I think that Pryor has caught most observers by surprise with the improvement he has made in the last year and either Flynn or Pryor are viable options at this time. I would not have an issue with starting Pryor because I think he has shown the leadership, work ethic and desire to be able to succeed at the NFL level. It does not matter what I think, however. It matters what Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie think as they are the two that must make the decision – a decision that will have significant impact upon their careers.
Again, we turn to the clues that Allen give us as to how he feels about his quarterbacks to date. When asked about how the QBs were performing in regards to his expectations, Allen said, “It's kind of playing out about like I expected. Matt Flynn has been pretty consistent.” He added,"Those guys are doing exactly what we want them to do, keep competing and keep playing. Don't worry about the depth chart, just keep getting better.''
I think it significant that Allen chose to praise Flynn for his consistency, of all things. We know, from the earlier quote I referenced, above, that Allen prizes consistency – it’s the trait he believes makes the best players in the NFL.
Pryor is many things – athletic, tall, strong, fast and with very good arm to name a few – but he is not consistent. It’s the biggest issue that Allen has with Pryor – something he’s attested to time and again. At the June OTAs, Allen said of Pryor, “I think still when you look at it at the quarterback position, he's still young in the position and there's still a lot of improvement that he needs to make. He's got a great athletic skill set but still some of the finer points of playing the quarterback position are still some of the things that he's got to get better at."
It’s unlikely that Allen’s opinion of Pryor has changed much in the two months since he made those comments.
Former Raiders owner/GM and defacto head coach Al Davis prized athletic ability above anything else. It was he that used a third-round draft selection on Pryor because of Pryor’s rare physical abilities. If Davis were still running the show in Oakland, there is no question that Matt Flynn would not be in Silver and Black and it seems quite likely that Terrelle Pryor would be under center this off-season.
The new regime subscribes to different philosophies, however, and the coaching staff under Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie prizes consistency above almost all else. For this reason, Flynn will be the starting QB week 1 for the Oakland Raiders.
For more Raiders news and analysis throughout the day, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews