Prioleau Grabs an Opportunity

Pierson Prioleau, working to stop Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway, played almost every down after Sean Taylor was ejected from last Saturday's game.
Pierson Prioleau, working to stop Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway, played almost every down after Sean Taylor was ejected from last Saturday's game. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

There are two ways to look at this, Pierson Prioleau figures, and he always has classified himself as an optimist.

The safety could take his new reputation -- that he's a target -- as the ultimate insult. After all, Prioleau said, opponents want to throw his way because they believe he's too slow, too small and too indecisive to make a play. "If you're a target," Washington cornerback Ade Jimoh said, "there's a problem."

Or, Prioleau decided, there could be an opportunity.

The seventh-year defensive back, who sometimes replaces Sean Taylor and plays frequently on third downs, has spent the last several weeks struggling with an attitude adjustment he called a "major challenge" in his career: take a role that comes with an inherent lack of respect and approach it proudly.

It's a challenge for which he's well suited. Prioleau has built a solid NFL career on his ability to take bad news and spin it positively. He received almost no scholarship offers, but then clawed his way into college football. He spent a half season out of the NFL midway through his career, but found his way back into the league.

"My outlook is always positive," said Prioleau, one of the Redskins' best tacklers on special teams. "I've basically decided, 'If you want to throw at me, fine. Bring it on.' The way I'm going to look at it is that any team who thinks I'm a target is just going to give me more chances to make a big play. It could be a positive thing for me."

So far, Prioleau's attitude has served him well. He has made 37 tackles and excelled when occasionally placed in the starting lineup. In a game against Arizona, he led the team with seven tackles, recorded one sack and forced and recovered a fumble. He's capable of lining up -- and making big plays -- at any position in the defensive backfield.

"He's small," cornerback Shawn Springs said of the 5-foot-11 Prioleau. "But doesn't hit like it."

Prioleau faced his toughest challenge Saturday in Washington's 17-10 win over Tampa Bay -- and he played, coaches said, about as well as anyone could have expected.

When Taylor was ejected from the game late in the third quarter, Prioleau -- who had spent most of the game watching from the sideline -- suddenly started playing almost every down. Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms threw in Prioleau's direction repeatedly but never enjoyed the big-play result he sought. The safety finished with four tackles, twice bringing down wide receiver Joey Galloway in the open field.

"He's extremely well-prepared and very professional," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He's always in here studying film. He knows the game plan inside out. He got thrown into the breach again the other night and played a lot for us in a real tough situation."

It's a reliability the Redskins anticipated when they signed Prioleau after the Buffalo Bills released him last March. Prioleau had played for Redskins coaches Gregg Williams and Steve Jackson in Buffalo. There, both coaches were impressed with the safety's versatility and ability.

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