The Jets defense has its own position experiment going on, not exactly similar to Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow at QB but intriguing nonetheless.
How do you fit three starting-quality safeties into two first-string positions? You call them all starters.
And as far as Eric Smith’s concerned, the approach is working fine.
“That’s what we’re going to do, and it’s looking good,” the upbeat Smith said this week. “We’re excited about it. I think it’ll be good for us.”
The other two safeties starting alongside Smith are, of course, veteran deep-middle men Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry. All three are impressive in their own right. Bell signed later in the offseason but has been around longer and has inhaled the Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine defense. OC Tony Sparano, Bell’s head coach with the Dolphins from 2008-11, said, “This guy was really a special player for me.”
Landry was signed as an unrestricted free agent in March but was rarely around the Jets building until June’s minicamp as he rehabbed those Achilles and foot issues he had the previous two seasons with Washington. We’ll cross our fingers as we say it, but Landry appears to be back to his old impactful self from his first three Redskins seasons.
“He’s a specimen, one of the biggest cut-up guys I’ve seen,” Smith said. “Seeing him move around, he’s zero-to-60 almost as fast as Cro [Antonio Cromartie], and Cro’s fast. He’s a very gifted athlete.”
Smitty’s no slouch, either. He was hobbled by different injuries last year but still played in all 16 games, started a career-high 14, and also posted career highs with 83 tackles and 2.5 sacks. And with Jim Leonhard gone off to Denver, he’s probably inherits the title as quarterback of the Ryan/Pettine scheme.
“I’m feeling good right now. I’m staying healthy and I feel like I’m having a good camp back there,” he said. “Making the checks, getting everybody on the same page, I feel like our communication right now is so far ahead of where it was last year and that we’re playing a lot faster.”
But since 3 usually doesn’t go into 2 evenly, Smith was asked how that’s going to work at his position. One way, he said, is for all three to be on the turf at the same time, in, say, some of their sub looks.
“The safeties we have, the different roles we can play,” he said, “I see a lot of packages where they’re putting all of us on the field, and it’s looking good.”
In the base, one of those safeties has to come off the field. Pettine no doubt has ideas on when the best combo will be Smith-Bell, when it’s Smith-Landry and when it’s Bell-Landry. But when Smith comes off the field, he knows he’ll still have plenty of reps ahead on Mike Westhoff’s special teams — although he marvels at Westhoff saying that this year “We’re going to free up Eric to be back with us a little bit more.”
“I don’t know how he can get me back more. I was on everything!” Smith said. Asked what was the most snaps he played in a game last season, he said, “There were a couple of games where I was over 100. More than a couple.”
We’ll see how the plan begins to morph as soon as Friday night at Cincinnati in the Jets’ preseason opener. But for now and hopefully on through the season, the safeties can warble a little Meat Loaf karaoke when they sing “Three into Two Ain’t Bad.”
Benefits of the Preseason Opener
TE Dustin Keller was asked Wednesday if Friday is the perfect time for the Jets to open their preseason schedule. “I would say so, before we all kill each other,” he said, laughing. “No, everything’s been good, camp’s been good, but we’re ready to hit another color jersey. While you’re going against your team, and competing against the best defense in the NFL is all good and great, you want to get out there and get some live work and a real feel for where this offense is.”
Keller’s desires for the offense against the Bengals’ defense: “I would like to see us making big plays and big plays down the field, and establish the run. I would like to see us be more consistent. I want to see us have multiple long-play drives, just keep it going, and staying out of the three-and-outs.”
Today’s practice was a closed walkthrough before the Jets board their charter flight for Cincinnati. … The Jets have several Ohioans on their roster, including two who played in the Queen City market. FB John Conner played at Lakota West HS in West Chester, a half-hour drive from downtown. Reporter John Holt talked with Conner exclusively for our e-newsletter subscribers. Click here to sign up for the newsletter. And CB Julian Posey attended La Salle HS in the northwestern part of the city. … LB Bryan Thomas will be making a return to action from last year’s Achilles injury and he’s pretty excited about it. Read my advance on BT in his first game action in a while Friday morning on newyorkjets.com.
Tags: Cincinnati Bengals, Dustin Keller, Eric Smith, John Conner, Julian Posey, LaRon Landry, Mike Pettine, Rex Ryan, Tony Sparano, training camp, Yeremiah Bell
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