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Calvin Pryor, secondary coach Tim McDonald have forged tight bond

Calvin Pryor of the Jets reacts during the

Calvin Pryor of the Jets reacts during the second quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 16, 2014 in Foxboro, Mass. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jared Wickerham

They seek each other out each day like father and son, not coach and player.

The conversations between Jets safety Calvin Pryor and secondary coach Tim McDonald last no more than five or 10 minutes but are impactful nonetheless.

Through Pryor's rocky rookie season, McDonald has been there -- not only as an instructor but as a listener. Their talks typically begin with football but eventually drift to off-field matters such as life, family and everything in between.

A six-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion with the 49ers, McDonald once was in Pryor's shoes -- a talented rookie slowed down by an adjustment period to the NFL.

"I missed my entire rookie season as a draft choice," said McDonald, a second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 who played in only three games his first year because of an injury. "I had a learning curve that I had to go through. It slowed me down but it made me better. I got fined. I missed a meeting as a rookie."

So when he speaks to his young pupil, he speaks from experience. And that is why Pryor is grateful.

"He's someone who played in the league for 13 years, so how could you ignore him?" Pryor said. "Every tip and every bit of advice he gives, I'm trying to soak it in. And besides being a coach, I look to him as a family member."

McDonald's words often come in the form of tough love, though. It's a lesson his son, T.J., now a St. Louis Rams safety, quickly learned while playing for his father in high school.

"I see him just like I see my son," McDonald said of Pryor, whom he benched against the Steelers because of off-the-field issues such as tardiness. "But we have rules and we have to follow those rules. And he's going to appreciate it in the long run. And I think he already does.

"I've never seen Calvin work harder than I see him working right now. He works his butt off and he's sharp and he does all the things that we're asking him to do. That's why there's no doubt in my mind he's going to be special."

Pryor, 22, believes that, too. But he readily admits he's finally focused on the "things that I should have been doing from the beginning," both on and off the field.

"The NFL will humble you real quick," said the former hard-hitting Louisville safety. "I'm not saying everybody's being cocky, but whoever you are, everybody's going to go through that phase."

He credits his trip home to Port St. Joe, Florida, during the Jets' bye week for his renewed confidence. The mental break was much-needed for a rookie who has yet to live up to the lofty expectations set by Rex Ryan. Pryor found clarity in those moments spent with his young daughter and family and returned to Florham Park with a renewed sense of determination.

"I was loving football, but at the same time, with the losing -- I wasn't used to losing," he said of the Jets' 2-10 season, which included an eight-game losing streak. " . . . But you have to have a positive attitude when you come into work, you have to approach things like you're going to be great, and that's how I'm feeling right now. I feel good about everything."

And he'd love nothing more than to snag an interception or a pick-6 Sunday against former college teammate Teddy Bridgewater, who now starts at quarterback for the Vikings. But even if that big play doesn't come on Sunday for Pryor, he remains committed to proving McDonald and Ryan right.

"Those are the guys who believed in me," he said. "Those guys brought me here for a reason. Those guys want the best out of me."

Pryor's stats (41 combined tackles, two passes defensed and a half-sack) aren't particularly impressive. And while it's true he's been forced to play in coverage instead of closer to the line of scrimmage -- his strength -- because of weak cornerback play, McDonald makes no apologies for doing "what's best for the team."

"Calvin has had his opportunities," he said matter-of-factly. " . . . No matter what system you're in, and he understands this, you've got to find a way to make your plays. He's a good enough athlete to make his plays. There are opportunities in all of those positions. And if you're going to stick around this league for any length of time, you better become good at all of them."

McDonald's tell-it-like-it-is tone doesn't faze Pryor, it inspires him. "Whenever he's direct, that means he really demands it out of you," he said. "He knows what I'm capable of doing, he knows how great I can be. And I know how great I can be."

Said McDonald: "You haven't seen the best of Calvin Pryor. It's still to come."

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