With more and more nickel packages in the NFL a team needs a solid secondary to keep up with this ever evolving passing league. Last year the Jets carried ten secondary members which consisted of six cornerbacks and four safeties which is very normal for a team to have.
Compared to last year the secondary seems to be a lot more promising going into the upcoming season. At a glance you can see it will be a new group of individuals that will be thrown into Rex Ryan’s system. Last year the secondary group consisted of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, Marquice Cole, Isaiah Trufant and Donald Strickland at cornerback. Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, and Emanuel Cook made up the safety class. Half of these men are no longer on the team, either finding new teams or in the case of Jim Leonhard being a free agent.
The current secondary is an exciting one compiled of big names where in the past the members were players only familiar to the Jets fan base. Our core at cornerback is still intact with Revis, Cromartie, and Wilson, but at safety it is a whole different ball of wax.
The Jets safeties have been a question mark for quite some time and last year proved that something had to be done. The New England Patriots have not one but two amazing tight ends on their roster and they use them to perfection to say the least.
Rob Gronkowski had 144 yards on only 12 catches last year; yes you read that right, 12 yards per catch. On top of that eyesore of a stat New England’s other all-star tight end Aaron Hernandez had 97 yards on 9 catches which is almost 11 yards a catch. That is 241 yards in two games, for lack of a better word that is “pathetic”. In a passing league the Jets cannot afford to have such a liability in the secondary when they arguably have the best cornerback pairing.
Going into the 2012 season the Jets secondary of credible players as it stands now consists of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, Isaiah Trufant, Julian Posey, Ellis Lankster at cornerback and Laron Landry, Yeremiah Bell , Eric Smith, Josh Bush, Tracy Wilson, Antonio Allen, and Deangelo Smith at safety. These numbers make it very tough to determine the exact amount of players from each group that will make the squad. The magic number is ten but that can change in an instant. Although the cornerbacks are an intriguing group, I would like to solely concentrate on the safeties which are the position that needs to drastically improve to keep up with the Patriots in the AFC East.
The first safety that is in the mix to bring a whole new face to the New York Jets secondary is Laron Landry. At a glance Landry looks more like a body builder than anything else and he brings that brawler aspect onto the field. The first thing that comes to mind when discussing Landry is his ruthless tackling, the second is his injury problems.
In 2011 he played only 8 games due to a lingering Achilles injury which is a big reason why many teams passed on him during free agency. On top of his 8 game performance last year, he only played in 9 the year beforehand. In a regular season there are 16 games so Landry appeared in a little of a season of games in two years. These concerns are evident and are a reason why the Jets seem to be stockpiling their safety class. If Landry can perform for the Jets this year the team is automatically upgraded.
Even though he only played for half a season his stats were still impressive. Landry racked up 48 tackles 35 solo and 13 assisted, 1.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. At age 27 Landry still has a lot in the tank and I am optimistic about his healthy unlike some. He has experience at both positions starting as a free safety coming into the league and switching to strong safety in 2010. The great thing about the Jets safety class is they have versatility to play at both safety positions with the only exception being Eric Smith whose pass coverage is spotty at best.
Eric Smith started all 16 games for the green and white last year compiling 89 tackles 66 solo and 23 assisted, 2.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and 1 interception. At age 29 Smith plays younger than he actually is, especially when tackling during run plays. As mentioned earlier Smith is not the best at covering the tight end which is evident with the stats that were mentioned for the Patriots alone. Obviously Gronkowski and Hernandez did not catch all their passed when covered by Smith, but it did happen a lot of the time. Eric Smith is a media goat and is not the most liked Jet when asked about by fans. With all that being said he knows the defense inside and out and it is 50/50 that he will be a starter on opening day. It is being said that Yeremiah Bell was signed to start over Smith but only time will tell.
The former longtime Dolphin Yeremiah Bell was signed recently by the New York Jets to be a starter as reported by beat writer Brian Costello. At the age of 34 Bell seems to be showing his age, but he still has a very high motor. Bell played in all 16 games last year totaling 107 tackles, 81 solo and 26 assisted, 2 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and 1 interception. For those keeping track these stats are better or equal to Eric Smith in every category besides sacks. The Jets are very desperate for leadership and have not been the same without a true voice to direct the team and it showed last year. Bell is a vocal leader and with his age and experience he will keep the Jets safeties of the future in line. If I were Josh Bush or Antonio Allen I would be talking with Bell regularly with an open ear and a notebook.
Although there are other safeties such as Tracy Wilson and Deangelo Smith on the roster, the future incumbents at safety seem to be Bush and Allen. Tracy Wilson who is only age 23 has some upside but has only played in 5 games compiling 5 tackles, 3 were solo the other 2 assisted. Deangelo Smith on the other hand hasn’t played a game since 2009 which is also very discouraging.
Josh Bush and Antonio Allen were draft picks this year for the Jets and the fan base seems to be very happy with the selections. In many Jets forums Allen is viewed as an absolute steal where he was drafted and not a lot of people thought he would be there in the 7th. Bush and Allen recently signed four year deals respectively and have been raved about at practice. These players have never been in an NFL game but the upside compared to last season is considerably higher with them on the roster.
This brings us to a man who was a defensive cornerstone for the Jets by the name of Jim Leonhard. Leonhard is currently a free agent and injury concerns have plagued his tenure with the Jets. When Leonhard went down the past two seasons you can see the play significantly drop. The depth at safety previously was an extreme weakness for this team. If you compare that to this year there is a complete turnaround.
The safety class is so talented that a player like Leonhard can be replaced in a sense by a group of players. The injury concerns to Laron Landry are very concerning and there is still a chance the Jets could sign Leonhard in the future. Having another defensive captain is not a bad thing especially when he is also a very good returner and hangs onto the football consistently.
Jim Leonard played 13 games for the Jets last year while helping the team with 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and six pass deflections. He played 11 games the year before and just like last year it ended due to injury. A team can never have too many good players but it comes to the point of money and if the team is ready to move on. If it is possible the Jets should still sign Leonhard for depth alone. Money is always an issue but without even a nibble in free agency up until this point one starts to wonder if he would consider playing for veteran minimum. Leonhard has a lot left in the tank and even with injuries can still perform at a high level. The question is will he still be around if the Jets need him?
As the roster stands currently the safety class would most likely consist of Landry, Bell, Smith, Bush, and Allen when all is said and done. The number at the position would increase by one compared to last year which may indirectly affect the amount of cornerbacks carried. There is a possibility that the practice squad may be an option for a player such as Antonio Allen but the risk is too high that he will get picked up by another team. The safer option is letting him learn through experience. In 2012 the safety position should no longer be one viewed as a negative and it is moving in the right direction. In conclusion I will leave you with this; the New England Patriots racked up 241 yards between two tight ends in two games expect that number to be cut in half at worst.