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Jets DB Calvin Pryor no longer "ticked off," eager for change from free to strong safety

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FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey — Calvin Pryor thought the question was backward.

"Do I think I'm an intimidator?" the New York Jets safety repeated. "I want the other guy feeling that intimidation. I want that guy to know I'm a hitter. I don't want to say it ... but I play like my hair is on fire."

Maybe this season, in a new defensive system and at a new, more comfortable position, that will come across to opponents. It didn't for much of Pryor's rookie season after the Jets made him a first-round draft pick.

Pryor was a star strong safety at Louisville, but Rex Ryan and his coaching staff went with Pryor at free safety while veteran Dawan Landry held down the other spot. Although Pryor didn't agree with the decision, he wasn't about to say anything in his first NFL season.

Still ...

"Frustrated? I was ticked off, honestly," Pryor said Tuesday as the Jets opened their minicamp. "They knew. At the same time, they had guys they wanted to play in certain situations. They had nobody to play free safety. I would go with the flow. I thought with drafting me, I would do the things I did in college.

"They were the coaches and I had to listen to them. I was taking on every challenge and used the anger inside as motivation. By the end of the year, I got better."

He also got to play strong safety late in a 4-12 season that led to Ryan being fired and Todd Bowles replacing him as Jets coach. When Bowles told Pryor he was the team's starting strong safety for 2015, well, "it was music to my ears."

The Jets also brought in Marcus Gilchrist as the free safety. Not to mention seriously upgrading the cornerback spot, which was the NFL's weakest last season, by bringing back All-Pro Darrelle Revis and veteran Antonio Cromartie, plus adding Buster Skrine.

Now, the team is as deep in the secondary as most anyone.

PHOTO: New York Jets free safety Calvin Pryor, left, lines up against safety Durell Eskridge during a mandatory minicamp at the NFL football team's facility, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New York Jets free safety Calvin Pryor, left, lines up against safety Durell Eskridge during a mandatory minicamp at the NFL football team's facility, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

That doesn't mean Pryor won't see some time at free safety, Bowles said.

"He's going to have to play free and strong in this one, too," Bowles said. "He did a lot of things that he did in college. Last year was his first year, you're going to have some growing pains. He made some good plays last year, he made some bad plays last year. Hopefully with the growth of the second year and studying and everything like that, I hope he gets better."

Pryor already believes that has occurred. Sure, he's learning his second defensive system in as many NFL seasons. But he looks around and sees solid players everywhere. He looks in the mirror and sees the Calvin Pryor he wants to see.

"I was thankful to be out there and getting playing time and experience under my belt in my rookie season," he said. "I learned a lot from my first year that I can take to my second year. I want to prove the doubters wrong."

The doubters? Already?

Pryor nodded, saying he'd seen tweets and heard comments that he was a bust.

"It was nothing to take to heart, I know who I am," he said. "I know I didn't have the best season as a rookie and I want to do better. I plan on it.

"I know what I am capable of doing, which is making plays and beating my man for the ball."

Pryor also appreciates that Bowles not only is a former player, but a former defensive back. Bowles spent seven NFL seasons with the Redskins, one with the 49ers. He won a Super Bowl with Washington.

"He can relate, he played safety in the NFL," Pryor said. "He knows how it is."


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