Safety prospects present distinct skill sets

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, February 24, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS—There were too many hits to count. Safety Calvin Pryor knocked three players out of three straight games.

The best hit?

Sitting at a table during this breather at the NFL scouting combine, the Louisville slugger starts laughing.

“I had a few,” he said.

Two safeties rise above the rest in this draft class. In one corner, there’s the dizzying Pryor. He leaves behind welts and bruises. In the other, there’s Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He’s the technician. He touts the NFL-ready Nick Saban defensive system. With the No. 21 overall selection in May, the Green Bay Packers may have a shot at one, both or none.

But these two, scouts indicate, are in their own class.

Ted Thompson passed on safeties for all seven rounds last season. In Pryor and Clinton-Dix, he has two very different players to study.

Pryor is the risk/reward prospect. He likes “greedy” defenses. Clinton-Dix, meanwhile, says it took him a year to fully grasp Saban’s complex scheme.

Who’s No. 1 is in the eye of the beholder.

“CP is a great player,” Clinton-Dix said. “He plays fast. He’s always around the ball. He can hit. He’s a physical person, so if I could compare myself, I’d say I’m quick as him. I can’t say I could hit like him. He’s a big hitter.”

Clinton-Dix used to catch Pryor’s Louisville games on Thursday nights, but the two didn’t know each other that well before fooling around during a TV promo Sunday in Indianapolis.

They’re very different. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Pryor became a “huge fan” of Kam Chancellor through Seattle’s Super Bowl run. Thus, he seeks a team that will “allow me to be me,” pointing to Pittsburgh, Seattle and San Francisco as fast, aggressive defenses.

In Green Bay, coaches harp on defensive backs playing within the scheme. Pryor prefers to roam, citing the virtues of “greedy” defenses.

“You don’t really like to give up much nowadays,” Pryor said. “You don’t have to play as deep because you have a pass rush that can get home. Everybody just has to be accountable for their position.”

Pryor never spoke with the three players he knocked out of games. Probably a good call. The damage was done. His string started with a piercing hit of Central Florida’s J.J. Worton. The receiver accelerated up the left sideline and Pryor dropped him with a left shoulder.

This is what a team gets in Pryor. A cold front of intimidation.

Last season, he finished the season with 75 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

“He brings a certain physicality that if you’re going to throw the ball down the middle of the field, you’re going to pay a price,” said Vance Bedford, Pryor’s defensive coordinator at Louisville. “That’s how the game used to be played.”

There weren’t as many hellfire highlights from Clinton-Dix. As a sophomore, alongside bulky Robert Lester, Clinton-Dix was the deeper-than-deepest safety. As a junior in 2013, he played in the box more. His birth name is actually “Hasean,” but Clinton-Dix’s grandmother started calling him “Ha Ha” when he was about 3 years old.

On the field, a team gets a safety who handled a complicated defense in the nation’s fastest conference. Whereas Pryor and safety Hakeem Smith shared communicating duties in Louisville, Clinton-Dix indicated he was the one relaying calls to the cornerbacks and linebackers in Alabama.

Clinton-Dix was asked to cover, move in space and support the run in finishing with 51 tackles and two picks.

“I’m very fast, very physical and not afraid to line up in the slot,” Clinton-Dix said. “I can do it all.”

No question, he sees the same playmaker everyone else does in Chancellor. But Clinton-Dix is selling himself as a total package.

“Chance is a big play, a big-time safety. But you also need safeties that can cover slot receivers and also play the deep middle of the field and in the box. So I think you need more versatile safeties in this league now.”

Following a season of zero interceptions and too many missteps in coverage, the Packers’ safety group needs a zap of energy. Thompson will have the money to bid on a free agent, too. If he waits, these are the two NFL-ready products.

Pryor, who had a formal visit with the Packers planned, does believe he can remain such a violent player in a league quick to flag and fine.

Delivering the perfect hit is a “mind-set,” he said. You need to view yourself as the hitter, not the hittee.

Not holding back, he views himself as the best.

“I do feel like that,” Pryor said. “I’m very confident in my game. My film speaks for itself.”

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