- Ashley Fox
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Calvin Pryor has been known at various times throughout his life as "Third Man," "Bone Crusher" and the "Louisville Slugger."
By the time the 2014 season is complete, he should have another moniker on his résumé: NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The 18th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft by the New York Jets was not the most acclaimed defensive player coming out of college. A safety from Louisville, Pryor did not create the buzz that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack did. Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick by Houston, and Mack, selected fifth by Oakland, are expected to make sizable contributions to their teams this season.
But Clowney will enter training camp just weeks removed from surgery to repair a sports hernia, and Mack left the Raiders' minicamp last week with, as head coach Dennis Allen said, his head "spinning" after the Raiders asked Mack to learn multiple positions.
Pryor's head wasn't spinning after his first minicamp. His mouth was running, yes, to the point that second-year quarterback Geno Smith quipped that Pryor had not earned the right to chirp. Yet.
But that is Pryor's nature, and he is a perfect fit for the Jets. Pryor is, as Jets head coach Rex Ryan noted after selecting him, in the mold of Seattle safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas: big, brash, a vicious hitter with range, who is able to blitz from various spots on the field, and an enforcer for the back of the defense.
"It's how we want to play defense," Ryan said at the time, while noting: "Big hits still win games."
Added New York general manager John Idzik: "He just plays like a Jet."
Pryor played three seasons at Louisville. He started the final seven games as a true freshman and developed a reputation as a hitter, hence the nickname "Louisville Slugger." As a junior last season, the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Pryor knocked an opponent out of each game of a three-game stretch. He finished his collegiate career as Louisville's all-time leader with nine forced fumbles. He also had seven interceptions.
That Pryor, who is named after his father and grandfather (hence the nickname "Third Man"), has already declared his disdain for New England only has endeared him more to a Jets fan base that has not seen its team win even a share of the AFC East since 2002 or go to the playoffs since 2010.
Despite the fact that Pryor spent time working with the first-team defense last week during minicamp, Ryan refused to anoint Pryor a starter. Ryan downplayed the rookie's performance while lauding Dawan Landry, last year's starter, for his job as a "mentor." The 31-year-old Landry, who started 16 games for the Jets last season after spending the previous two seasons with Jacksonville, won the "Iron Jet Award" given to the top-conditioned New York player of the offseason. But reading between Ryan's lines, it does not sound like Landry will win a starting job.
It could be that, as he said, Ryan simply wanted to see how Pryor fit in with his starting defense, and that's why he had Pryor working with the ones. The more likely scenario, however, is that Ryan knows Pryor has game-changing talent and can help the Jets, who finished 31st in takeaways last season, create much-needed turnovers.
The Jets have revamped a secondary that once was one of the NFL's best with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Along with Pryor, they drafted Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle in the third round. McDougle should challenge for one of the starting corner spots, along with Dee Milliner, who played well at the end of last season as a rookie, and veteran Dimitri Patterson. Antonio Allen got a lot of action as a starter during OTAs, with Landry potentially as the third safety and Jaiquawn Jarrett also in the mix.
The Jets' defense, which finished last season ranked 11th overall in allowing 334.9 yards per game, should be improved, with a solid front four that includes last season's defensive rookie of the year, Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson became the fourth New York player to win the award, which has been in existence since 1967. There have been only two safeties, the Jets' Erik McMillan in 1988 and Chicago's Mark Carrier in 1990, to win the award.
Pass-rushers often get the nod, like Hugh Douglas did for the Jets in 1995, so Clowney and Mack have the advantage given the position that each plays. But Clowney and Mack will enter training camp at a disadvantage to Pryor, who is healthy and playing in a defensive system that will ask him to do what he excelled at in college. That includes rushing the passer.
It is inevitable that Pryor will make big hits. He should be able to create turnovers. He will make plays. And if Pryor does so from the jump, he should add another line to his résumé: NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Calvin Pryor has earned many nicknames, but by the end of the 2014 season, Pryor will have another title: defensive rookie of the year, Ashley Fox writes.