COLUMBUS - Terrelle Pryor has been in pursuit of grand expectations ever since he arrived at Ohio State almost two years ago - the expectations of the Buckeye Nation and his own.
"He just wants to do great," said receiver DeVier Posey, one of Pryor's closest friends on the team. "We expect that kid to do great things anyway."
It was just over two years ago that Pryor, one of the nation's most sought-after high school players, announced he would attend Ohio State. "I want to make something happen," he said at the time.
There were immediate comparisons to Vince Young, the ultra athletic, dual-threat quarterback who led Texas to a national championship. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel tried to temper the skyrocketing anticipation of multiple Heisman Trophy awards and BCS titles.
"Everyone is aware that Terrelle has the kind of ability that once he understands the system and knows opposing defenses, he's going to have a chance to show his play-making ability," Tressel said after Pryor affirmed he would be a Buckeye.
Pryor's role as a spectator quarterback at Ohio State did not last long. He started the fourth game of his freshman season becoming only the second true freshman to start at quarterback for Ohio State - Art Schlichter was the other. Pryor went 8-1 as the starter in 2008 and was the Big Ten freshman of the year.
Last season, the 6-6, 235-pound Pryor led the Buckeyes to a fifth straight Big Ten championship and then completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns as the MVP in the Rose Bowl win over Oregon.
"Terrelle has just gotten better and better ever since he arrived here at Ohio State, and that process just keeps continuing," receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
"He had a great 2009 season, he was even better in the Rose Bowl, and he is an even better player, better leader, and a better quarterback, now. It's exciting to see a great player get better, and that's what we're seeing this spring with Terrelle."
Pryor, preparing for his junior season, is healthy, confident, and comfortable in his evolving leadership role according to his teammates and coaches. He suffered a partial tear of a ligament in his left knee late in the 2009 season, had surgery following the Rose Bowl, and went through an intense rehab for two months.
Pryor has practiced most of the spring without a brace or wrap on the knee, but he wore a brace during Saturday's scrimmage as a precaution. The Buckeyes' defenders were not allowed to make contact with Pryor and the other quarterbacks during the scrimmage.
"It feels great. It feels like 100 percent," Pryor said. "I've just got the brace on to be cautious, so I can keep it more stabilized. I'm faster than I think I have ever been."
Tressel said Pryor's poise and decision-making have both improved, and his command of the offense has increased significantly over his two-plus seasons in Columbus.
"I was trying to close my eyes and think back to last spring," Tressel said, "and he just seems to have a little bit more confidence than he did a year ago at this time."
Tressel said Pryor's tireless work ethic, and his borderline destructive self-critiques, have the Pennsylvania native making the incremental progress necessary for success.
"People ask 'did the light go on', but I'm not sure I've ever seen that," Tressel said. "Is the light getting brighter - Yes. You can see that. Did it take an extra step of brightness through the bowl preparation and bowl performance - I think so. But it's got to keep getting brighter."
For Pryor, earning the respect and confidence of his teammates has been more of a priority than anything else. He said his position has an inherent requirement for leadership, and he has felt comfortable with that, despite commanding a huddle composed of mostly older players.
"As a quarterback, we're taught by coach Tressel and we talk a lot about being a leader. I try to lead whether I am the youngest on the team or not," Pryor said. "I'm not cocky - I'm just more of a people person. I feel like I have more of a relief off my chest. I can just be happy and enjoy my teammates. I feel great as an individual and as a quarterback."
The defense dominated the final scrimmage on Saturday, which is not unusual for the Buckeyes. Spring practice wraps up this week with the Spring Game in Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Sophomore tight end Jake Stoneburner thinks Buckeyes fans will see an improved Pryor in that event, and one functioning with an ever-expanding playbook.
"[When] Terrelle was young, maybe we just didn't call a lot of those plays to help keep it simple," Stoneburner said. "He has gotten a lot smarter as a quarterback. He's not locking down on one target, and he's throwing the ball away if we're not open. He's much more accurate, and his arm strength and his deep ball are a lot better."
In his two seasons with the Buckeyes, Pryor has played in 26 games and completed 267-of-460 passes for 3,405 yards and 30 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. He has also rushed for 1,410 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Pryor said his progression has never been rapid enough to suit his expectations, but he approaches the upcoming 2010 season much more comfortable with his game-management skills.
"It's all about decision-making, and I think I am making a lot better decisions," he said. "When you first get here, you wonder 'Is this ever going to slow down for me and be easy like high school?' But it has really slowed down for me."
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Terrelle Pryor has been in pursuit of grand expectations ever since he arrived at Ohio State almost two years ago - the expectations of the Buckeye Nation and his own. "He just wants to do great," said receiver DeVier Posey, one of Pryor's closest friends on the team. "We expect that kid to do great things anyway." It was just over two years ago that Pryor, one of the nation's most sought-after high school players, announced he would attend Ohio State.