Tough injury news for the Green & White has come out of today’s practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Safety and punt returner Jim Leonhard was carted off the outside grass field with what head coach Rex Ryan described at this afternoon’s news conference as “a severe shin injury.”
(The injury was determined to be a fractured tibia in Leonhard’s right leg. See update below.)
Ryan said Leonhard will miss Monday night’s AFC East showdown at New England against the Patriots and doesn’t know yet how much longer Leonhard might miss. Thus Leonhard’s 58-game pro playing streak for the Jets, Ravens and Bills, including six playoff appearances, will come to an end and will remove a key player from the Jets’ defense and special teams as the Jets head down the regular-season home stretch toward the playoffs.
“It’s going to be tough to replace Jim,” said Ryan, who added he doesn’t know yet if Leonhard will be out for the rest of the season. “But we’re fortunate. We have a lot of talent. Next man who steps up, we expect him to stay at the same level, if not a higher level.
“Don’t feel sorry for us. We’re fine. Obviously this is a huge blow for our football team but we’re tough.”
“Anytime you lose a player, it rattles you,” said Ryan, who opened his news conference with news of the injury, which occurred as the result of a collision later in practice with wideout Patrick Turner. “It is a damper, no question about it. But the way this team is, we don’t want to let Jim down either, we don’t want to let the team down, our fans down, each other down.
“Trust me, they’re not feeling sorry for us. We have enough players. We’re going to find a way to get it done. That’s what I’m banking on. Do I think we’ll win the game? Absolutely.”
Ryan didn’t commit to replacements in the Jets’ lineup for Leonhard, but he said for his starting safeties “I think it’ll be Eric Smith and Brodney Pool.” Smith has started four games this season, including the Thanksgiving night game against the Bengals, while Pool has started seven games.
On punt returns, the coach said, “We’ve got Joe McKnight and Kyle Wilson. Jerricho Cotchery did it last year — if it’s windy up there, I know one thing, Jerricho will catch it. Guys like Santonio Holmes have done it in the past, and [Antonio] Cromartie. We have a lot of options there.”
Leonhard had started all 30 games, including season’s three playoff games, since he arrived as an unrestricted free agent from the Ravens last off-season. He even played through a broken finger suffered in last year’s Game 9 against Jacksonville, not missing a game. The last game he missed as a pro, in fact, was Game 7 of the 2007 season, when he was in Buffalo’s secondary and the Bills played the Jets.
With the Jets this season he again was handling the play calls for the secondary, and in the last game against the Bengals, he ended the defense’s five-game interception drought when he snapped up Carson Palmer’s deep ball intended for Terrell Owens in the second quarter, starting the Jets on a field goal drive for their first points of the game.
Update: 5:45 p.m.: Leonhard has a fractured tibia in his right leg. He was taken this afternoon to Morristown Memorial Hospital not far from the Jets’ training center. He will undergo surgery tonight, with Dr. Ken Montgomery, chairman of the Jets’ medical department, Dr. Andrew Willis and Dr. Pat Grob performing the operation.
Before the surgery, the team reported that the fracture did not break the skin and that Leonhard’s fibula is OK as are his knee and ankle.
The Jets will have an update on Leonhard’s status for the rest of the season after team officials have had a chance to meet with the doctors following the surgery.
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