I think it would be fair to say Calvin Pryor's rookie year has been a disappointment. The impact plays have been few and far between. The bad angles to the ball as the last line of defense allowing a big play to turn into a catastrophic play have been many. Sunday against Tennessee we at least saw some glimpses of the playmaking safety we all hoped to see this season.
I think part of the story of Pryor's season has been that he has been forced to play a deep centerfield too frequently. This type of role limits the impact a safety can have. His job is to stay deep where the ball is unlikely to come and serve as the last thing between the carrier and the end zone.
Against the Titans Pryor still had his share of deep coverage responsibility, but he showed some flashes of potential when he is allowed to roam with other responsibilities. Let's take a look at a few examples.
Here Pryor is playing a short zone as Jake Locker is on the move to his left. Pryor shows some really nice range in getting to an athletic quarterback quickly enough to impact the throw.
Here's a screen where Pryor again was lined up closer to the line and was able to recognize, take a great angle to the ball, and use his speed to blow past blockers to make a play.
Here we have Pryor showing hustle and once again range cleaning up a tackle that Marcus Williams misses on the perimeter.
On this one the Titans are running an end around for Dexter McCluster. Pryor is lined up deep, but Jaiquawn Jarrett right before the snap makes a hand signal that might have freed Pryor up before the play. It appears Jarrett takes the deep responsibility, and Pryor can go downhill. It looks like the play is set up, but Pryor covers so much ground and again finds the gap in the blocking, blowing past it. He doesn't make the tackle, but he does force McCluster wider and slows him down by making contact. This gives the rest of the defense extra time to get off blocks and get to the ball carrier.
Having a safety with the type of range to line up deep and yet get behind the line of scrimmage to make plays opens up exciting possibilities for a defense in terms of disguising formations to confuse the offense.
What does this mean? Perhaps it doesn't mean much. It's dangerous to make assumptions based on one game, particularly when that one game is a meaningless one in December against a really bad team. A year ago there were plenty of proclamations about Geno Smith, Dee Milliner, and Brian Winters based on similar efforts. This doesn't erase what has been a disappointing rookie year. It doesn't mean John Idzik should get another shot because his first round pick had a good game to see what else happens.
It is something worth watching, though. For one game at least the Jets saw sparks out of their first round pick when he was unburdened with being the last line of defense. If the trend continues, it might be something for the next coach to consider when building roles for his defense.