The Jets took a huge blow today at the end of Friday practice when safety Jim Leonhard got tangled up with back-up receiver Patrick Turner and suffered what was originally described by the team as a “severe” injury to his shin and had to be carted off the field.
The team later confirmed that the injury is a broken tibia, and they have placed him on injured reserve, ending his season.
The bottom line is that the Jets will have to move on and face the New England Patriots on Monday without one of their most important players. Leonhard calls the coverages for the defensive backfield and is like a quarterback for the defense.
Leonhard does not actually call the plays, that’s usually linebacker David Harris’s job, but his ability to call plays on the fly and adjust to what he sees in the offense is one of the key reasons the Jets secondary is so effective week in and week out.
Fifth-year man Eric Smith will take over Leonhard’s duties at safety and will likely call the on-field coverages with help from the coaches on the sideline. Brodney Pool will likely get the start at the other safety spot usually occupied by Smith.
It’s extremely important that the Jets make sure everyone is on the same page defensively against Tom Brady. A good quarterback like Brady has the offensive firepower to create mismatches anywhere on the field, so it’s crucial for the Jets to know their responsibilities and communicate effectively.
Having a coverage breakdown just one time could be one time to many against the highest scoring offense in the league. The Jets have had their share of miscommunication and coverage breakdowns at times over the past two seasons even with Leonhard in the fold, so they have to be sharp against New England if they want to come away with a big road victory.
Aside from Darrelle Revis and Eric Smith, the secondary is made up of newcomers to this defense who have not fully grasped the system fluently enough to dominate opposing offenses. Antonio Cromartie has played well all season, and shouldn’t be affected too much by Leonhard’s injury.
However, Brodney Pool needs to step up and prove that the Jets made the right choice bringing him in to replace Kerry Rhodes, who was traded away in the offseason. Rhodes, the best cover safety on the Jets roster last season, was shipped out ironically enough because he was slow to learn the system and was involved in several coverage breakdowns throughout the course of the season.
Pool hasn’t been quick to learn the system either, but thankfully the Jets will have defensive back Dwight Lowery back this week from a concussion to share snaps at the safety spot if needed.
As far as Leonhard’s other duties go, special teams coach Mike Westhoff said that Jerricho Cotchery will likely get the nod as the primary punt returner, while Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie will be in the mix when the Jets use two-deep returns. Cotchery is returning from his groin injury that he suffered a few weeks back, so it appears he’s coming back just in time.
At the end of the day, losing Jim Leonhard is a huge loss for the Jets, and a big obstacle to overcome against a 9-2 team who’s playing at home and on a recent hot streak.
But this team was built on depth, from the first guy on the roster to the 53rd. Eric Smith may not be the most physically gifted player on the field, but he’s got the brains to make up for it. The Star-Ledger’s Jenny Vrentas wrote about Smith just yesterday, (as did I a few months ago.)
I trust Eric Smith to step up and “play like a Jet” on Monday night. Great teams step up in the face of adversity and overcome any obstacles in their path. No one’s going to feel sorry for the Jets on Monday. Certainly not Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
”It is a damper, but the way this team is now, we don’t want to let Jim down,” Rex Ryan said. ”We are going to find a way to get it done. And, that’s what I’m banking on. Do I think we’ll win the game? Absolutely.”
It’s just another level of intrigue in what should be the game of the year. Just three days until Monday Night. I’m ready, the Jets are ready, I’m sure the Pats will be ready, too. Are you ready for some football?