FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets drafted Calvin Pryor, in large part, because of his tackling ability. Now we find out the aspect of his game he needs to improve upon is his tackling. Not only is it ironic, but it's troubling.
"It starts with tackling," Rex Ryan said Monday of his first-round pick, who lost his starting job to Jaiquawn Jarrett. "You have to get guys on the ground. He gets some great shots -- he's a good tackler -- but you have to get them down in space, especially when you have that much room -- and that's not easy. That's an area where he's working hard to improve."
Pryor is a highlight-film tackler -- check out some of his big hits from college on YouTube -- but there's more to playing safety in the NFL than blowing up receivers and running backs. It's about the fundamentals, too. Deployed mostly as a free safety, not his natural position, he struggles in space, taking poor angles that result in missed tackles.
According to Pro Football Focus, Pryor leads the Jets with 10 missed tackles, followed by cornerback Darrin Walls (eight), safety Antonio Allen (six) and cornerback Phillip Adams (five). A poor-tackling safety is the same as a cornerback who can't cover -- he's useless.
In fairness to Pryor, he's playing out of position. Because of injuries and personnel issues at cornerback, he's been used as a free safety, away from the line of scrimmage. At Louisville, he was a strong safety, wreaking havoc in the box. He earned the nickname "Louisville Slugger." He'd probably be more productive in that role for the Jets, but as Ryan said, "We're not looking to just win Rookie of the Year. We're trying to win games."
If Pryor wants to be a star at this level, he'll have to make himself a complete player. He can start by showing up on time for meetings. It was learned after his Week 10 benching that Pryor had been late for multiple meetings, causing frustration within the organization. Ryan insisted it wasn't the reason for the demotion, claiming it was based on Jarrett's improvement.
The point is, Jarrett and Dawan Landry will start Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and the 18th overall pick will be coming off the bench. Pryor, who didn't play any defensive snaps in the last game, will have "a significant role," according to Ryan. The coach doesn't feel the need to spell it out to his prized rookie.
"You don't have to explain yourself," Ryan said. "You just do what's in the best interest of the team."