ALAMEDA -- Limping along at 3-10 while carrying around a six-game losing streak like some silver and black albatross, the line between trying to win games and playing youngsters for evaluation is a thin one indeed for Raiders first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie and rookie coach Dennis Allen.
But it's one they have to navigate with three games left in the season, including the home finale on Dec. 16 against Kansas City.
So yeah, the time is growing nearer -- if it has not already passed -- for the Raiders to throw third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor into a game. Maybe even start him in a not-so-hostile atmosphere in Oakland against the Chiefs, to give him a better opportunity to succeed.
But not with the sense that starter Carson Palmer is being benched, or with the understanding that backup Matt Leinart has been surpassed on the depth chart. Rather, the Raiders need to see what Pryor can do in a game, against legit NFL defensive players, and not the third-stringers and washouts he faced in the exhibition season.
Pryor is the most intriguing player on the roster but the questions surrounding him as a potential NFL quarterback are outnumbered only by his athletic skill. Meaning, the Raiders have to see if he is indeed cut out to be a QB for them.
"I think the biggest thing is to start getting him in a game, a little bit of game action," Allen said Friday. "I'm not ready to say that he would be a starter. I think that Carson, obviously, he's made a couple of mistakes the last couple of weeks but yet, Carson's been one of the reasons why, specifically, earlier in the year, why we had a chance in certain games.
"So I'm not down on Carson at all. Obviously, we want to see some of these younger guys play."
The first name Allen drops is that of offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, the first player drafted by the McKenzie-Allen regime. But a grunt does not move the needle like Pryor. Then again, no one on the Raiders roster moves the needle like Pryor…even if, as the joke goes, he could not thread one with a pass.
"What we have to understand as players and coaches, we've got look to the future also," Allen said. "We're trying to go out there and win and it's our job to go out there and win on a ay-to-day basis.
"This process is not an overnight process; it's going to take a little bit of time. So the only way we can continue to move forward is to continue to look at some of these young guys."
In 2005, the Raiders faced a similar situation with Norv Turner as the coach and Kerry Collins under center. Collins was having a decent season stats-wise but even with LaMont Jordan and Randy Moss, the offense was stuck in the mud. And having lost four of five, the Raiders turned to Marques Tuiasosopo.
For a game. Against the New York Jets. In the Meadowlands. In December. Just to see what they had in the popular "Tui."
It didn't work out so well as Tuiasosopo was pummeled for six sacks with 19 yards rushing on two attempts and harassed into a 14-of-26 passing day, for 124 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions in the Raiders' 26-10 defeat.
The next week, Collins was back under center and he finished the season with 3,759 yards passing, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 15 games. The Raiders went 4-12.
The next year, though, Collins was gone. As was Turner.
Palmer, meanwhile, is on pace to pass for 4,683 yards, a mere six yards behind Rich Gannon's 2002 franchise single-season franchise record, with 27 TDs and 17 INTs. That 2002 Raiders team went to the Super Bowl.
"I've got a big-picture view of what I want this football team to look like and Reggie and I have talked about it," Allen said. "And we knew what we were dealing with when we came here, and we knew that we had some depth issues on the roster and we couldn't sustain a lot of injuries and we've sustained some injuries in a few spots.
"We all want to win and I understand that and I want to win now. But I'm looking at the long-term future of this team and we've got to prepare for the future."
Then how close is Allen to having the roster he envisions?
"I wouldn't put any time frame on it," he said. "It's going to take time. It doesn't happen with one decision; it's a cumulation of decisions made over time that gets everything to be exactly how you want it."