New York Jets safety Eric Smith has always been a target of criticism by many Jets fans.
Jets coach Rex Ryan named Smith the starting strong safety before training camp and it’s fair to say that the Jets likely overestimated Smith’s skill set.
I like Eric Smith. He’s a smart, heady football player who’s grown from an afterthought leftover from the previous Jets’ regime to a Rex Ryan favorite, well respected teammate, and a team captain.
Smith is terrific as the Jets’ special teams captain, a role that suits him well. But making him the starting safety and not having an adequate backup was definitely a problem with the Jets this year.
When fellow safety Jim Leonhard went down with a season-ending knee injury for the second straight season, Smith was pressed into duty, calling plays for the secondary and trying to keep the Jets afloat.
For the most part, Smith played well, but any time he found himself matched up with an athletic receiver or tight end, Smith ended up on the wrong end of that matchup.
It’s not a knock on Smith to say that he’s not a good cover safety. I think even he and his teammates would agree it’s not the strength of his game.
He’s a great player when he’s moving forward, but poor when he’s going backwards, so to speak. Smith is poor in coverage, but he’s a sure tackler and embodies Rex Ryan’s hard-nosed style of play.
Smith is also one tough hombre, evidently, as it was revealed to the media a few days ago that he played the final five games of the 2011 season on an injured knee that he needed surgically repaired this week.
The Jets said that Smith tore the meniscus in his knee over a month ago, in a team practice a few days before the Jets’ Week 13 victory over the Washington Redskins on December 4.
Smith played the final five games of the season on the injured knee, and he got it surgically repaired on Wednesday, three days after the Jets’ season finale in Miami.
He signed a three-year deal with the Jets prior to the 2011 season, and I imagine he’ll likely be back with the team next year. Although, many Jets fans, myself included, hope that he’s in a reduced role.
Eric Smith is a good football player who was simply asked to do too much by Ryan and the Jets’ coaching staff. He’s a great special teamer and great for the Jets’ sub-packages on defense.
If the Jets can find a couple of cover safeties to lock down the back of the secondary in 2012, I would love to see Smith back in a Jets uniform again.
It’s too easy to see a player’s flaws and dismiss his strengths. If there’s anybody who can find a way to get the most out of Smith’s strengths, it’s Rex Ryan. I hope he finds a way moving forward.