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Bart Scott worries about Calvin Pryor's hitting style

Jets safety Calvin Pryor runs a pattern during

Jets safety Calvin Pryor runs a pattern during NFL football rookie camp, Friday, May 16, 2014, in Florham Park, N.J. Credit: AP / Julie Jacobson

Bart Scott was one of the hardest-tackling linebackers of his generation, so he certainly appreciates Jets rookie safety Calvin Pryor's aggressive style and penchant for leveling ballcarriers with ferocious hits.

But the former Jet and Raven worries that Pryor might be a bit too reckless for his own good.

"He's a bit of a launcher,'' said Scott, now an NFL analyst at CBS. "He's explosive and dynamic, but it's not always about making the big hit all the time. It's about making the smart one, securing the tackle.''

Scott worries that Pryor's style eventually will take a toll -- not just on the players he hits but on himself.

"He's going to pay the price,'' Scott said. "When you're a big hitter, you hurt other people but you hurt yourself. It takes a toll on the tackler as well.''

As Pryor prepares to begin his NFL career against the Raiders on Sunday, he is not surprised to hear Scott's warning. This is not the first time he has heard it. It likely won't be the last, either, because if Pryor's NFL performance is anything like the way he played for Louisville -- he took delight in knocking opponents out of games -- his style certainly will draw attention. And possibly criticism.

"I've had people complain about how I tackle before,'' Pryor said. "[At Louisville], I was told by my coaches that I shouldn't be so aggressive where I throw my whole body into the guy where I could get hurt.''

He never changed his style, though, always delivering a big hit when the opportunity presented itself. Take a look at a highlight reel of Pryor's career at Louisville and you will see him flying around and producing hits that make you glad you're not on the receiving end.

He offers no apologies.

"That's just the way I play football,'' he said. "If I feel like a receiver or a running back is in the position where I don't have to launch at him, I won't launch at him, I'll just make the correct tackle. But if I feel like I have to launch or throw my body out there, I'll do that.''

Pryor might be walking a fine line, though. With the NFL becoming increasingly sensitive about big hits -- especially gratuitous shots that result in concussions -- the way defensive players tackle has come under more scrutiny.

Safeties in particular have become a focus of the league's officiating department. Three safeties -- Dashon Goldson of the Buccaneers, Michael Griffin of the Titans and Brandon Meriweather of the Redskins -- have been suspended the last two years as a result of repeated flagrant hits.

Unlike cornerbacks, who most of the time already are close to the opposing receiver when they begin the tackling process, safeties have more space between them and the receiver and therefore can take an extra step or two before making a more forceful tackle.

"You have to be careful now, because the rules aren't what they used to be,'' Scott said. "[Pryor] has to really adjust his technique and use his shoulder more.''

Pryor acknowledges that there are split-second decisions to be made as he lines up a player. Just the slightest change of direction can alter the result of the hit. Sometimes he can control where he places his body; other times, instinct takes over and might change his movement.

"As a safety, you have more of an awareness of what's going on and what's going to happen, so you're able to get to a play quicker than most,'' he said. "Sometimes that puts you in a vulnerable position."

"Let's say a receiver is trying to catch the ball, you may want to try to hit him low. But at the same time, you want to try to make a big play and knock the ball out or have a huge hit. Those are the decisions you have to go through in your mind before the play takes place. But it's a quick reaction and it happens very fast.''

Scott and others may have reservations about Pryor's style, but Jets coach Rex Ryan does not. Nor does Ryan see a need for Pryor to adjust his technique.

"He might have been one of the least-penalized players in college,'' Ryan said. "He's a big hitter, and I don't want to change that style of play. I don't want to take away one of his best attributes.''

Ryan acknowledged the increased emphasis on tackling within the framework of the NFL rules, especially as it pertains to safeties, but he doesn't put Pryor in the same category as those who have been repeatedly fined or suspended.

"Calvin's a way different hitter,'' Ryan said. "There's not one cheap thing about this kid. Where he gets his biggest hits are on ballcarriers or running backs. But against wideouts, it's all clean. He lowers the target, doesn't leave his feet and he doesn't hit you in the head.''

Ryan is counting on Pryor to make plenty of those big hits and provide an aggressive dynamic that hasn't always been there for the Jets. As long as it's within the rules, it's all good. But if Pryor delivers some hits that run afoul of the league's increased emphasis on player safety, Scott may be right: Pryor might have to change his style after all -- maybe for his own good.

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