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EKU's Pryor wants wins in his pocket
Doesn’t plan to be man on run again
T.J. Pryor felt claustrophobic last season.
When the pocket collapsed, the Eastern Kentucky University quarterback’s self-preservation instincts kicked in. He was running for yardage — and often running for his life. Who could blame him? EKU allowed 3.45 sacks per game, tied for fourth-most in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But Pryor isn’t blaming his teammates. The junior spent the offseason working to become a better quarterback so he can run less and make more plays from the pocket.
“I grew up a little bit,” the Ballard High School graduate said. “I was running out of the pocket too quick, wasn’t trusting my offensive line. I’ve done a lot of footwork, focusing on staying in the pocket, looking downfield, not focusing on the rush that’s coming in front of me. I want to get the ball in my playmakers’ hands.”
How much was Pryor on the run last season? He became the first quarterback to lead EKU in rushing (505 yards, nine touchdowns) since 1963, but that wasn’t by design. The running game faltered (151.8 yards per game, third-worst in the Ohio Valley Conference), the line was porous and Pryor was forced to carry the ball 146 times (13.2 per game).
By comparison, he averaged 9.5 carries per game when he was the 2009 OVC Freshman of the Year.
EKU has made changes. Dane Damron, formerly the special teams and tight ends coach, is the new offensive coordinator. He will employ more traditional sets instead of relying solely on the spread offense. Pryor will take more snaps behind center as opposed to the shotgun.
With four returning offensive linemen, continuity should help. Tailback Kyle Lumpkin, who blew out a knee last October, also will be back.
The wide receiver corps took a step back when Orlandus Harris (56 catches, 940 yards, seven TDs) suffered a season-ending knee injury this month. However, head coach Dean Hood expressed confidence in junior-college transfer Cameron Bailey, as well as returnees Tyrone Goard (20 catches, 315 yards, five TDs) and Justin Williams.
Hood said Pryor shouldn’t have to carry the entire load.
“Our running game is where we can run the ball through the tailback position now,” the fourth-year coach said. “The line is giving him more time and the receivers are catching the ball. It will be more playing within the system for him rather than painting an S on his chest and telling him to go out there and get a W for the Colonels.”
When Pryor passed last season, he wasn’t as productive as he was as a freshman. In 2010 he passed for 146.6 yards per game, completing 53.2 percent of his atttempts. As a freshman he averaged 195.7 yards per game and completed 58.1 percent of his passes.
He said he has been working on his five-step drops and likes his weapons.
Lumpkin and H.B. Banjoman (423 rushing yards, five TDs) are back. Pryor called the 6-foot-5 Goard a “deep threat” and Bailey “really quick and slippery.”
“I would rather them catch the ball and get hit, rather than me get hit,” the 6-2, 193-pounder said with a laugh. “A lot of pressure was on me last year to make all the plays. We have some great running backs. Our line has another year underneath their belt. The passing game is opening up. We’ll go from there.”
By Michael Grant, The Courier-Journal