Jim Leonhard might have been placed on injured reserve on Dec. 4, but the defensive signalcaller hasn’t been invisible here at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
“I’m starting to feel a lot better. It’s 2½ weeks after surgery as of today and I’m starting to turn that corner and take the next step,” said Leonhard, who fractured his right tibia in a Dec. 3 practice after colliding with WR Patrick Turner. “I have been able to do a lot of rehab, which is surprising. You get a broken bone like this, you never know how it’s going to go and it’s frustrating. But it’s been great to be around the guys, great to be around the building.”
Leonhard played 11 games for the Green & White in 2010, totaling 66 tackles, 1 INT, 6 PDs and 1 FR. But the six-year pro has participated in the last two AFC Championship Games and he lives for this time of year.
“It’s a crazy thing and the most frustrating thing for me is when it happened — December. You want to play in December, you want to play in January and close seasons,” he said this week on “Four Quarters.” “Not having that opportunity is the thing that hurts me the most.”
The Leonhard surgery went well and he began to lift with his upper body this week. And if rehab goes according to schedule, he should resume football activities in the spring.
“They said it’s probably a three-to-four-month process until I’ll be playing football again, but there will be a lot of ups and downs in the next few months,” he said. “I know that, I’m very aware of that. But I feel very fortunate to have the doctors we have, the training staff we have and the support system the Jets provide.”
In his traditional good spirits, a noticeably trimmer Leonhard also can find comfort in a former teammate’s comeback with the Seattle Seahawks this season.
“The one silver lining in this is Leon Washington had an injury [broken right fibula on Oct. 25, 2009] that was very similar and worse to this last year. I’ve been able to talk to him and our trainers and they’ve already gone through this process,” he said, “so they know exactly the steps that have to happen and kind of the landmarks I need to be hitting in my rehab.”
Serving as the ‘Hawks’ primary kickoff returner, Washington has averaged 27.0 yards and has taken three back for scores. Both players are considered emotional sparkplugs and the Jets looked flat in New England three days after the loss of Leonhard.
“I think it definitely affected them. I try to be an emotional leader,” said Leonhard after I suggested that his absence had a major impact on New York’s AFC representative. “I’m not the most vocal guy, but I’m a guy who plays with heart, a guy who plays with passion and tries to be a leader of the group. When you lose someone like that, it definitely hurts.
“It takes you a little time to adjust and to find that leadership in different places, and I think we’ve done that. On this team, we have great veteran leadership and it’s only a matter of time for another guy to step up and fill the void.”
The Jets have been very thin at safety in recent weeks. James Ihedigbo (ankle/knee) missed the Dolphins game and then Eric Smith (concussion) sat out last week’s key win over the Steelers. On Thanksgiving, the Jets started Leonhard and Smith at safety and then three games later they lined up with Dwight Lowery and Brodney Pool as the last line of defense.
“The freelancing and the freedom Rex and Coach [Mike] Pettine give you in this defense is generally based on how much you know and how much you understand everything else that is going on around you. I see myself as a player who is allowed to do that a lot more because I have a pretty good understanding of what’s going on,” Leonhard said.
“It definitely takes experience in this system and it takes more reps, which are hard to come by late in the season because you can’t practice as hard, you don’t have the training camp and different things like that. There probably is a little bit less [freelancing] going on than when I was in the game, but they always keep it interesting.”
If your football team isn’t banged up in late December, then you’re either in a two-hand-touch or flag league. It can sometimes be a war of attrition in the NFL and you are going to need contributions from some of the lesser-knowns.
“Our defensive staff finds ways to put players in a position to make plays and you see that on a week-to-week basis, a different guy stepping up,” said Leonhard. “You look at Marquice Cole. He breaks up the last two plays against Pittsburgh. He’s had a limited role on this defense up to this point and guys are going to step up. You have to. It’s a business where you have to step up or someone else is going to take your spot. It’s cutthroat, but that’s the business we live in and we enjoy it.”
A football junkie, Leonhard is trying to help his team in any way he can. He comes in to meet with coaches and players to talk Xs and Os and also to provide motivational talks when necessary. He is already eyeing 2011 while still helping the 2010 team attain its goals.
“I want to help this team. I love this team and I feel like we are going to do special things to close this season off and you want to be a part of that,” he said. “The hardest part when you’re injured is you’re kind of pushed to the side because you’re focused on winning football games and once you’re injured you can’t help that. I’m trying to get back in the mix a little bit.
“It’s tough at first because you miss it and you want to be out there on the field with your teammates and you can’t be there. Now I’m trying to get to that point where I’m trying to help out any way possible and we’ll see.”
Tags: Brodney Pool, Dwight Lowery, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Jim Leonhard, Mike Pettine, Rex Ryan
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