The Jets need a safety or two and their shopping may start in a couple of weeks when the NFL’s league year commences. Both Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool will be unrestricted free agents on March 13, so that leaves starter Eric Smith and reserve Tracy Wilson on the roster. Even if the Green & White add a safety in free agency or via a trade, they may be looking to add another one on draft weekend.
Alabama’s Mark Barron is the top safety prospect in the draft and he will probably be the only S selected in April’s first round. The 6’2”, 218-pounder will likely merit strong consideration from the Jets if he is still on the board in the middle of the opening round.
“You keep on hearing about Mark Barron, the safety from Alabama, is a good fit for what they need and that’s kind of where he should go,” ESPN’s Todd McShay told newyorkjets.com at the combine. “He had double-hernia surgery last month, and everyone says it’ll be fine and it’s something that will not affect him long-term or even in the short term when you’re talking about his rookie season. I think he would be a great fit there.”
Barron, who plans on working out in late March, is NFL-ready after playing both safety positions for Nick Saban at ‘Bama.
“We played in a very difficult defense, first of all,” he said. “We did a lot of different schemes. My role was, as far as communicating, I had a lot to do with that on the back end. And I felt like sometimes I brought some energy to it with the hits I make and things of that nature. I did a lot of different things, so I can’t pinpoint one exact role for me on defense.”
The versatile Barron lined up at free safety this past season and strong safety the year before. He was known not only as a big hitter — he collected 12 interceptions during his collegiate career.
“He is physical. He will come up and hit you,” McShay said. “The thing about Barron is there is no aspect of the game that he doesn’t do well. He’s not the best cover safety, if you will. He has some limitations in terms of man-to-man, but he can cover the tight end. He has good range in terms of being back. In being the high man in the three-safety or three-defensive-backs look, he comes up and is physical against the run. He can play in the box.
“I just love the way he plays the game, the tempo he brings and the leadership he brings in the secondary. It’s hard to imagine that he’s not a successful impact type of player who can be a leader on a defense.”
When asked by a reporter if he prefers to make a bone-crushing hit or an interception, Barron leaned to the takeaway but acknowledged both have their place.
“I like making plays, period. I would say interception because that’s more of a game-changer. That affects the game more,” he said. “But I like hitting and making interceptions.”
Quality safeties often have to wait around for a bit on draft weekend. Ed Reed, the Miami product who played for Rex Ryan in Baltimore and already has a jacket ready at the Hall of Fame, was selected No. 24 overall by the Ravens in the 2002 draft. A year later, USC’s Troy Polamalu went No. 16 overall to Pittsburgh. The 49ers’ Dashon Goldson, a Pro Bowler who had six interceptions in 2001 and is scheduled be a prized free agent this spring, was a fourth-round selection out of Washington in the 2007 draft.
“If a guy is a good player, then he’s just a good player,” Barron said. “I don’t see why position-wise, if you have a better player that’s a safety and then you have a corner that may not be a better football player than that guy, I don’t see a reason why that corner should go ahead of that safety if that safety is a better player. I’ve seen that happen, so I just don’t understand it. But that’s not my position to pick players and who gets drafted where.”
Not a huge fan of the NFL’s safety rules, Barron plans on continuing his aggressive play at the next level.
“Honestly, I don’t like them because the way I’ve been taught to play the game is hit and I hit hard,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to make some adjustments. Hopefully I’ll definitely make them — I’m not sure if I will because like I said that’s the way I was taught to play the game.”
Tags: Alabama, Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard, Mark Barron, NFL Combine, Todd McShay, Tracy Wilson
Posted in Eric Allen | 38 Comments »
The Jets offense lately has been passing its screen test again.
The screen game, which can be so important to defeating an ultra-aggressive pass rush by picking up big chunks of yardage at a time, looked pretty impressive in the Jets’ first three games, particularly on LaDainian Tomlinson’s monster 74-yard catch-and-run from Mark Sanchez.
Then the screen started to get holes in it. In the six-game span from Baltimore through the home game against New England, the Jets completed only eight screens, and only one of them went for at least 10 yards.
But Joe McKnight breathed life into the screen game at Denver, and with two big plays out of it Sunday vs. the Chiefs — Shonn Greene’s 36-yard play to set up the Jets’ second TD and Tomlinson’s ice-breaking 19-yard TD play late in the first half — in the last month the devastating screen play is back on the front burner.
“It’s something we put a big focus on coming into training camp,” guard Brandon Moore said following today’s practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. “They weren’t working as well in the beginning of the year. Just like everything else we try to correct … the things we’ve been working on have been showing up on Sundays. That’s the encouraging thing to see, especially this time of year.”
The screens were a big reason that Greene and Tomlinson were the major targets for Sanchez on Sunday. Greene had three receptions for 58 yards, Tomlinson two for 50. It was the first time in eight seasons and just the 14th time in franchise history that two Jets running backs each had 50-plus receiving yards in the same game.
So if it worked so well against the hard-charging Chiefs’ front seven, surely Brian Schottenheimer and Sanchez will be dialing the screens up against the harder-charging Eagles, the NFL’s top-sacking team?
“Well, they’re easy completions and if they make their way into the game plan this week, that’s great,” Sanchez said. “If not, we have to do it with runs and completions down the field or whatever it is. It’s just a good changeup for us, but you can’t just rely on something like that. We need to be good running the ball and throwing it downfield as well.”
With Wednesday comes the full-fledged start of the next week of the season. And this time it marks the next December day that Rex Ryan is having to move on down the home stretch without his safety.
“Jimmy Leonhard had surgery today. Everything went well,” Ryan said of the procedure to repair Leonhard’s torn right patella tendon. “And again, they always say that as long as you come out of it, so it went well.”
Ryan said at least he doesn’t feel that the defense will need a game to regroup from the loss of their quarterback as they did last year, when they went from the last practice of the week on Friday, when Leonhard broke his leg, into the Monday night 45-3 loss at New England.
“I think there was some unusual circumstance because he got hurt with one day left in the week for practice,” Ryan recalled. “I think that was what really contributed to that, and the fact that we were playing the Patriots. I don’t want to take anything away from them, but that was part of the issue, part of the problem.
“Right now there are no excuses. We have a full week’s preparation with Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, the same guys that closed out all the playoff games and everything else, so we feel really comfortable with those guys. Obviously, it’s an unfortunate injury, it’s a huge loss to us, but we’re built to still be effective.”
Tracy Wilson moves in behind Smitty and Brodney, and behind them will be Gerald Alexander, the interesting veteran signing announced late Tuesday. Rex said after today’s practice he’s still not certain where his new No. 42 factors into Sunday’s plan for the Eagles.
“We just had him out there today. We have a great deal of confidence in our scouting department. I know they were trying to get us the best player,” Ryan said. “Right now he’s swimming. He just came out there and we’ll see. Obviously, if we signed him, then upstairs feels pretty good about him. And seems like a nice young man.”
We spent some locker room time with Alexander today and we’ll bring you a profile on him Thursday. For now two notes to pique your interest: He was Boise State teammates with Kyle Wilson for one year. And he’s an avid Tweeter who can be found at twitter.com/galexander21
On the injury report front, the “swelling” on the Jets’ list in recent weeks has been reduced to 11 players. Only two didn’t practice today — G Brandon Moore (hip) and CB Marquice Cole (knee). Three more were listed as limited — DT Mike DeVito (knee), DL Marcus Dixon (hip) and S Eric Smith (knee).
“I feel pretty good about everybody, really,” said Ryan. ‘With Brandon, this was what we had talked about. We’ll probably limit him tomorrow, then have him full Friday. ‘Quice, we’ll see how his knee is. He’s probably questionable right now. All the other guys I think will be able to play, DeVito, Dixon and Smith.”
The coach added that DeVito, who has sat out four of the last seven games with knee issues, worked some 9-on-7 drills, handled some double teams, and “looked pretty good out there.”
For the Eagles, QB Michael Vick (ribs) led the four-man contingent that did not practice today. Also DNP were T Todd Herremans (ankle), DT Cullen Jenkins (groin) and DE Darryl Tapp (ribs). WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring/shoulder) was limited, but coach Andy Reid said on a conference call with Jets reporters today that he thinks Maclin will play against the Jets.
Tags: Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, Gerald Alexander, Jim Leonhard, Kansas City Chiefs, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles, Rex Ryan, Shonn Greene, Tracy Wilson
Posted in Randy Lange | 57 Comments »
The injury looked bad right after it happened, and today Rex Ryan made it official: S Jim Leonhard will not finish the season for the second consecutive year.
“We lost Jimmy, torn patella tendon,” the Jets head coach told team reporters on a conference call this afternoon. “You feel absolutely terrible for him. This team means everything to Jim. His leadership is obviously going to be missed. I know he’ll get this surgery and I’m sure he’s going to be around the building and be part of us anyway. He just can’t do it physically.”
The silver lining to Sunday’s second-quarter injury, not for Leonhard but for the Jets, is that similar to last year, when Leonard broke his leg in practice on Dec. 3, Brodney Pool is ready to step in, play alongside Eric Smith and keep the deep middle contributing to the Jets’ defensive efforts down the stretch.
“We’re fortunate to have as a team a player like Brodney as a backup safety. Now he’ll come in at starting safety with Eric,” Ryan said. “Brodney’s a guy who has man cover skills, he’s got range, he’s smart, he’s in our system now for the second season, so we’re fortunate to have him.
“It’s obviously a huge blow for our football team,” Ryan added, “but it’s one we think we can overcome.”
The difficult part may be in filling in behind Smith and Pool. Undrafted free agent Tracy Wilson, signed in late August, waived in September, signed to the practice squad in October and to the active roster in November, is the lone backup on the depth chart at the moment. Ryan said GM Mike Tannenbaum and his team are seeking available help “maybe not for the short term but to help us with depth maybe in the long term.”
But the long term doesn’t have much longer to go this season. Three more weeks of the regular season — which, if the Jets navigate with three victories, will get them their third AFC Wild Card playoff berth in the three Ryan seasons — plus however long the Green & White would continue into the postseason.
However, for the front line, Pool showed after Leonhard’s injury a year ago that he could accelerate his learning curve in the Ryan/Mike Pettine scheme and had a strong finish, particularly in the Indianapolis playoff game. Now it’s time for No. 22 to stand out one more time.
On the punt-returning front, no sooner had Ryan established his preference for Leonhard’s sure-handedness as the main punt returner than Leonhard went down after his lone return vs. the Chiefs for 1 yard.
But rookie Jeremy Kerley stepped right back into the role and did a solid job with 42 yards on three returns — 14- and 26-yard runbacks to set up two second-quarter TD drives and a 2-yard return that saved a tough hopper from being turned into an inside-the-5 punt in the third — plus two flawless fair catches.
“Jeremy was in this morning catching punts,” Ryan said. “He takes it on himself to get better — over 200 passes on the JUGS gun every day and I can’t tell you how many punts. … I think Jeremy’s done a tremendous job. Obviously he’s got to do a great job catching the football, first, and worrying about the return, second.”
Ryan said Leonhard will be “almost taking over a coaching role right now” and that he doesn’t think this injury in any way ends Leonhard’s playing career. But for one more stretch run the Jets will be without their heady, competitive back-end field general. We’ll add our condolences to those from around the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and from around Jets Nation: We’re sorry to hear that you’re going to miss the end to another season, and we wish you a speedy recovery and rehab.
Nuggets from the Chiefs Game
KC coach Todd Haley was dismissed today, less than a day after Sunday’s 37-10 Jets verdict. Ryan on the firing: “As a member of the coaching community, it’s always tough when you hear news like that. I never knew Todd well, but when I’ve been around him, I’ve had a lot of respect for him. I think he did an outstanding job as a coordinator and obviously he took his team to the playoffs last year. It’s just an unfortunate thing. These things happen. I wish him the best.” Romeo Crennel, the former Jets and Patriots assistant and Browns head coach, was named as the Chiefs’ interim HC.
A couple of notes on Mark Sanchez’s recent run: Passer ratings sometimes not terribly revealing but they’re often interesting just the same. For instance, Sanchez’s second quarter vs. the Chiefs was one of three “perfect passing” quarters in his Jets career. He completed seven of eight passes for 120 yards and both his touchdown passes in the second frame, giving him a “perfect” rating of 158.3 for that quarter.
His other such ratings came in the fourth quarter of last year’s AFC Divisional Round game at New England (3-for-3, 72 yards, one TD) and in the third quarter of this year’s Game 2 vs. Jacksonville (5-for-5, 78 yards, 1 TD).
And Sanchez has been at the helm of 13 touchdown drives over the current three-game winning streak. The last time a Jets QB had 13 TD series in a three-game span was Chad Pennington during that golden stretch run in 2002 (3 @ NE, 5 vs. GB, 5 vs. IND in the AFC Wild Card Game). The last time a Jets QB had more was Ken O’Brien, who personally directed 14 TD possessions in 1985 (5 in Game 9 @ IND, 2 in Game 10 @ MIA, 7 in Game 11 vs. TB).
The Jets were the beneficiaries of seven first downs by penalty Sunday. That’s the same total they got in the 2000 Monday Night Miracle OT win over the Dolphins. The last time they got more in a game was in 1988, when the Houston Oilers helped them move the chains nine times via penalty.
The two Jets RBs with the most yards from scrimmage in a game in the last seven seasons were on the MetLife field at the end of the day Sunday. Thomas Jones, now of course a Chief, had 227 yards of offense vs. Buffalo in 2009. And Shonn Greene had a career-high 187 yards in the just-completed win. Crunching the numbers one more way, Greene has the most YFS by a Jets RB with at least 50 receiving yards since Curtis Martin racked up a franchise-record 228 yards in the snow against Pittsburgh on Dec. 14, 2003.
“Inside the Jets”
Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and defensive tackle Marcus Dixon will be the special guests at tonight’s “Inside the Jets” radio show from 7-8 p.m. ET. You can attend the show at Grasshopper Off the Green in Morristown, N.J., or listen to the proceedings, hosted by voice of the Jets Bobby Wischusen, on ESPN 1050.
Tags: Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard, Kansas City Chiefs, Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan, Shonn Greene
Posted in Randy Lange | 58 Comments »
PDs can be Pretty Darn Slippery. Sometimes a team can get a lot of pass defenses in a game and get scorched through the air. Sometimes it can get only a couple and still shut down the other team’s passing game.
But for the Jets on Sunday, their unofficial total of 13 PDs actually was quite impressive and in keeping with the quality of their pass defense against the Redskins. And two of the cornerbacks who had a few of those PDs told me in the locker room today that the showing was no accident.
“We did a great job last week,” said Antonio Cromartie, who had one of his best games of the year. “We got a lot of tipped balls, even from our front line, and our linebackers were getting their hands on passes. Nothing’s really changed for us. It’s just being a lot more aggressive.”
“Overall, we’re really just playing our techniques. Coach [Mike Pettine] is calling the plays and we’re going out and executing to the best of our ability,” said Kyle Wilson, who came up with the late interception, the second pick of his career, off of Donald Strickland’s deflection. “When the ball’s in the air, we’re attacking it. That’s definitely been a point of emphasis the last few weeks and I think we’re doing a better job of it.”
How good? Just in terms of unofficial numbers, the Jets have had only one other game in the last 15 seasons in which they had as many as 13 PDs. That was in 1999, when they flew to pre-Tebow Denver off of a season-opening three-game losing streak and picked off Brian Griese and Bubby Brister five times in their 21-13 come-from-behind win. S Victor Green and LB Mo Lewis each had three PDs that day.
On Sunday, the Jets spread the wealth around, with Jim Leonhard, David Harris, Cromartie and Strickland each getting two defenses apiece. Sione Pouha and Muhammad Wilkerson each batted down a Rex Grossman pass behind the line.
Interestingly, Darrelle Revis had no PDs but that’s probably because Grossman was wary of the Island. Revis much of the game was covering WR Jabar Gaffney, who was targeted only three times by the ‘Skins QB and had no catches.
The Jets almost had a first-half interception when Brodney Pool snared a Grossman overthrow, but Strickland’s illegal contact on TE Fred Davis wiped it out. But the play seemed to underscore the renewed stress on the defense.
“We’re just trying to emphasize getting more and more turnovers,” Cro added, “to give our offense more opportunities to score.”
Wilson’s pick didn’t produce points, but the first second-half fumble recovery led to a Nick Folk field goal try (his only miss, from 40 yards out) and the second FR led two plays later to Shonn Greene’s second TD run of the game.
Even with the reminders from head coach Rex Ryan, Pettine and DBs coach Dennis Thurman, were coming off of three low-PD games — seven breakups and no picks combined in the New England-Denver-Buffalo stretch. So was Washington a one-off or the start of a trend? We’ll know more when first-year QB Tyler Palko, sore-fingered vet Kyle Orton and the Chiefs’ receivers pay a visit this Sunday.
Blackjacking the Redskins
That touchdown, by the way, was part of one of the quickest streaks to 21 points in franchise history. In a note that we first reported in our E-blast to season ticket holders and subscribers Wednesday, the Mark Sanchez-to-Santonio Holmes TD pass and Greene’s two TDs all came in a span of 3:02, which is the shortest amount of clock time the Jets have used to score three times since at least 1980.
The quickest had been the 3:29 span of the third quarter at Buffalo in Game 4 of the 2010 season, during which the Jets hung up 21 points on the Bills in their 38-14 victory. Quickest before that was 1985 Game 9 at Indianapolis (3:43).
Ryan’s take today on the Jets’ mentality heading into the Chiefs:
“There’s a sense of urgency, without question. But it’s just a purpose, a focus. That’s where we’re at. We know what’s at stake. We have to win this game. There’s all the scenarios in the world, three out of four might get us in, but there’s no scenarios where you can lose an AFC game. We have to win our two remaining AFC games and we’ll worry about all the other stuff later. We know we have to win this game. With that understanding, it’s dialed up our intensity and focus.”
Mike Westhoff said he isn’t ruling Jeremy Kerley out of returning punts Sunday, although he acknowledges along with Ryan that Jim Leonhard has the experience and sure-handedness the coaches like. Westhoff put much of the blame for that muff not on Kerley but on Washington’s Niles Paul getting through two Jets and blasting Kerley almost as soon as he touched the ball. … Westhoff said if Joe McKnight can’t return kickoffs due to his elbow, Antonio Cromartie is next up and Kerley behind Cro.
G Brandon Moore sat out his second practice of the week but Ryan is still not worried about his availability for the Chiefs. “No, I feel good about Brandon,” the coach said. “How many starts in a row does he have? It’s over 100, I know. He can probably miss a practice or two.”
DT Mike DeVito also sat out his second practice and is less certain to be ready for Kansas City. Safety Eric Smith (knee), DT Marcus Dixon (hip) and RB-KR Joe McKnight (elbow) were all limited for team drills at today’s practice. LB David Harris (ankle) and CB Ellis Lankster (low back), who weren’t full-go Wednesday, practiced full today.
The Chiefs’ slim report added a fourth body today when LB Jovan Belcher (shoulder) was listed as limited for team drills. QB Kyle Orton and C Casey Wiegmann also remained limited and LB Demorrio Williams probable.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, David Harris, Jeremy Kerley, Jim Leonhard, Kansas City Chiefs, Kyle Wilson, Mike Westhoff, Washington Redskins
Posted in Randy Lange | 27 Comments »
After a light walkthrough and meetings today, the Jets left the Atlantic Health Training Center for some welcome time off. The bye week comes at an advantageous point in the season, as the Jets will be able to rest up before facing two division foes in back-to-back weeks.
“I think we go into the bye week with a lot of confidence,” said S Jim Leonhard. “Obviously, we wanted to get a couple of wins going in, and we did that.”
Awaiting the Jets coming off the bye on Nov. 6 are the second-place Buffalo Bills. The following week, the Jets will host the New England Patriots in a Sunday night matchup. Those two games will go a long way in determining the eventual structure of the AFC East standings.
“We’ll be ready,” said Leonhard. “We need to close this season out strong. This bye will help get us ready, get us fresh, then we come back to the grind. Mentally, once you come back from this bye week, there are no breaks. You go until the season is over.”
Now in his seventh year, Leonhard can appreciate extended time off. When he and his teammates return to practice one week from today, it will be all business through the end of the season.
“It’s going to be big,” he said. “We need to get our minds and bodies back during this bye week and come back for the grind. You never know how the season is going to play out or where you’re going to get your victories, but you know you need to start stacking them up.”
A ninth-year veteran of the NFL, G Brandon Moore knows the key to overcoming a slow start out of the bye.
“We just have to be smart in that first practice back on Monday,” said Moore. “We can’t have that you-guys-look-like-you-had-a-week-off look. Guys have to zero in coming into that day.”
In Sunday’s 27-21 victory, Moore and his fellow offensive linemen enjoyed perhaps their best performance this season. The protection they provided led the Jets to 162 rushing yards, including 112 from RB Shonn Greene. Both numbers are season highs for the Green & White.
“It’s just that stack-the-bricks kind of model that Rex has been preaching,” said Moore. “That paid off against San Diego. When you string those together, you can come out on top on Sundays.”
By stacking the bricks, the Jets have built themselves a record of 4-3. In addition to being over .500 with a week of rest ahead, they have built something else, potentially more important, moving forward.
“We have a lot of confidence, not just because we got some wins, but because of the style of football that we’re playing,” said Leonhard. “This is our blueprint.”
Tags: Brandon Moore, Buffalo Bills, Jim Leonhard, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers
Posted in Andrew LeRay | 54 Comments »
Jim Leonhard will return to the city of his professional breakout Sunday night when the Jets face off against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“It’s another chance to play a group of guys you’ve had history with and who you respect. It doesn’t change. Those are the games you want to play,” Leonhard told me on this week’s installment of “Four Quarters.” “They’re a great football team — they’re one of the best football teams in this league. Those are the tests you want to have week in and week out. That’s how you really judge your football team.”
Leonhard, who played with the Ravens under Rex Ryan in 2008 before joining him up north in March of 2009, hasn’t been pleased with the D’s efforts in two of the first three games.
“I think it’s just the fine details. That’s what’s coming up. It’s not necessarily the same thing schematically over and over, but it’s always something,” he said. “A lot of plays there were 10 guys who played the play really well and one guy made a mistake, and that’s where the ball went. There are a lot of issues we need to clean up, but we’re the right people for the job and I think we’ll be fine.”
Jets icon Joe Namath made news this week when he questioned the Green & White’s preparation and wondered if the players were starting to think they were better than they actually are.
“It’s an execution thing,” said Leonhard in reference to Namath’s interview on ESPN’s Michael Kay Show. “It’s one of those things that some Sundays you go out and for whatever reason it is, you don’t execute. There are no excuses for it. This is our job and you go out there to play sound football for 16 regular-season games. That’s your goal and we haven’t done that.
“I don’t think it’s a preparation thing at all and Rex is a confident coach. He’s going to give us confidence and we can’t just live off of that,” he added. “We can’t just show up and say, ‘We’re a good football team.’ You have to go out and prove it week in and week out.”
The defense fell far short of its expectations in Oakland, allowing 234 yards on the ground overall and 171 and two rush TDs to Darren McFadden in the 34-24 loss. That performance moved them back to 31st in the league against the run, but they have already had film review, corrected the mistakes and now must look ahead.
“Baltimore is a great football team if they have 100 percent of your focus. If you are dwelling on a loss and feeling sorry for yourself, that makes them even more dangerous,” Leonhard said. “It’s one of those things where you have a good 24, 48 hours to put it behind you and then you move on. Life in the NFL is whether you win or lose. You have to be able to put it behind you.”
The 2-1 Ravens have the same record as the Jets and they’ve also been inconsistent at times. They spanked the Steelers in Week 1 at home, amassing seven takeaways defensively and getting strong performances from Joe Flacco with three passing TDs and Ray Rice with 107 yards on the ground. But then they got dominated in Nashville in Week 2 as the Titans rolled up 432 yards of total offense and Flacco was intercepted twice.
Last week, the good Ravens flew again as they crushed the Rams, 37-7, in St. Louis. Rookie burner Torrey Smith hauled in a trifecta of scoring passes in the opening quarter and the Edgar Allen Poes rolled up 406 yards of offense in the first half. Rice had a nice day at the office, but he actually had only eight rush attempts as Flacco tossed the rock 48 times in the blowout win.
“I think they are a little bit more a passing-oriented team than they have been in the past. They still want to run the football — don’t get that twisted. But at the same time they realized they have a lot of talent on the outside and Joe Flacco is coming into his own and becoming a very solid quarterback,” Leonhard said. “They aren’t afraid to spread you out and throw the football around if they have to, so they’re definitely a little bit more balanced than they’ve been in the past. Obviously, that defense is everything you expect it to be.”
Former Bills wideout Lee Evans, a teammate of Leonhard’s at Wisconsin, didn’t suit up against the Rams due to a left ankle injury. It’s possible he could make a return and that could mean speed galore on the outside.
“They have some guys who can blow the top off a defense. If you’re on that side, you almost can’t be deep enough. You know they’re going deep and you know they’ll throw it up to them,” said Leonhard.
The physical Anquan Boldin and Rice are tied for the Ravens’ lead with 14 receptions, but second-year TE Ed Dickson is next with 12 and he can get down the field as well.
“He’s becoming that vertical threat down the middle of the field for them, really putting pressure on teams,” Leonhard said of Dickson. “When you have a tight end who can get vertical, it really stresses the defense and they’re doing a great job with him. Anquan Boldin is who he is — he’s a big, physical receiver. They’ll put him in the slot, they’ll put him on the outside, and they’ll run reverses with him. They’ll do everything with him — you have to have your eyes on him every play. They’re doing a lot of very good things with that offense.”
For more, please watch “Four Quarters” Wednesday.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, Darren McFadden, Jim Leonhard, Joe Flacco, Lee Evans, Oakland Raiders, Torrey Smith
Posted in Eric Allen | 42 Comments »
In Monday night’s tilt against the Giants, rookie defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson showed Jets fans what his teammates have known for some time. The 6’4”, 315-pounder is one tough cookie, and although he has yet to play his first professional regular season game, he has proven his mettle and shown he belongs.
In the third quarter, with the Jets leading, 7-3, an otherwise nondescript 7-yard completion by the Giants turned into a slugfest. Wilkerson and Giants RB Brandon Jacobs were tangled up when Jacobs threw a punch at the rookie. Wilkerson retaliated and both were promptly ejected from the game.
“He’s a very competitive guy that’s willing to stick his nose in there,” said S Jim Leonhard. “It was a hard-nosed football play, and it ended up where it ended up, which is unfortunate. But you like to see that from young guys. He’s going to be an aggressive player for us.”
Wilkerson, a Linden, N.J., native, acknowledged he might have been better served by not involving himself with Jacobs, but he wouldn’t go so far as to apologize for what transpired between the two.
“Was it a smart move? No. Do I regret it? No,” Wilkerson told reporters on a Tuesday conference call. “It’s football and I’m not going to let anyone take advantage of me.”
Coming off a standout junior season at Temple, Wilkerson started in all 12 games for the Owls, making 9.5 sacks, 70 tackles in all and 13 tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles.
Even though the Jets players could not use the team facilities for virtually the entire offseason, head coach Rex Ryan was able to get a playbook to Wilkerson on the day the lockout was lifted, and then the rookie found two particular teammates to be especially helpful in his transition to the pro game.
“I was looking at it every day,” said Wilkerson. “I also met up with Sione [Pouha] and [Mike] DeVito, and the rest of the defensive line got together one week when Mark [Sanchez] brought some guys out west. That’s what really helped me make such a smooth transition into camp.”
Once Wilkerson arrived at training camp, his skills were front and center. He has above-average agility for a lineman his size, and combined with his strength, he makes for a difficult matchup.
“I think I’ve had a good preseason,” he said. “I just wanted to come in and work week in and week out. I’ve improved from the first game, and I want to keep doing that throughout the season.”
Through three preseason games, Wilkerson has recorded six total tackles in limited playing time. He’ll look to improve further in the preseason finale against Philadelphia at MetLife Stadium. Only a day removed from the Giants game, Ryan said the rookies will be on center stage come Thursday night.
Wilkerson, in all his youthful exuberance, is not concerned with the short turnaround.
“It’s kind of just like practice,” he said. “You practice every day with pads. It’s kind of going to be the same. It’s not like I’m not looking forward to it. I’m ready to go, no matter when, no matter where.”
Wilkerson has been a pro football player for only a short while but already exudes a veteran grit. This comes as no surprise to Ryan, who thinks some of his toughness may be a result of where he grew up.
“I don’t think he’s intimidated by anything,” said Ryan earlier this month. “He’s a tough New Jersey kid. It’s kind of neat when you get a New Jersey guy. New York, New Jersey, we get our own kind of kids here.”
After making a statement on Monday night, Ryan and the rest of the Jets are all in this Jersey guy’s corner.
A Decade of “Hard Knocks”
Ten years after the debut of the groundbreaking NFL Films and HBO Sports collaboration and a year after the Jets were the stars of the show, HBO is ready to air “Hard Knocks: A Decade of NFL Training Camps.” The new show debuts tonight from 10-11:30 p.m. ET/PT exclusively on HBO.
In addition to revisiting memorable moments of the featured teams — Baltimore, Dallas (twice), Kansas City, Cincinnati and the Jets — this special includes new interviews with Rex Ryan and other Hard Knocks veterans.
You can also see the special Thursday at 4:05 a.m. on HBO and at 9 a.m. on HBO2 and at other times on the two HBO networks through Sept. 21.
Tags: Brandon Jacobs, Jim Leonhard, Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Rex Ryan
Posted in Andrew LeRay, Randy Lange | 39 Comments »
The Jets’ defensive starters weren’t perfect tonight at MetLife Stadium, but there were plenty of reasons to be encouraged from the first unit’s performance against their crosstown rivals in the 17-3 verdict over the Giants.
Despite bending at various points, the starters yielded no touchdowns in 30 minutes of work and they’ll probably now finish the summer with just 10 points allowed on 17 drives. After finishing sixth in points allowed last year at 19 per game, the Green & White have good reason to feel confident heading into the regular-season opener Sept. 11 against the Dallas Cowboys.
The best news might be after amassing just 12 interceptions in 16 games last season, the Jets collected two in the first half for the second consecutive week and the team has totaled six in three contests.
“That’s what it should be,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “Tipped balls and overthrows — that’s where you’re going to get your picks and you have to be able to rush the passer and make him elevate his throws.”
Safety Jim Leonhard, who had a pick the Jets’ 27-7 win over the Bengals at the Met, played the slot perfectly and halted the Giants’ first drive of the game as they attempted to push into the red zone.
Then in the second quarter, Eli Manning felt City pressure and didn’t like it. On a second-and-8 play from the Giants 37, Manning kept on retreating when he saw big Mike DeVito and company in his face. The result was a horribly thrown ball up the left sideline that David “Hitman” Harris picked off by the Jets’ bench. Perhaps the only thing Harris did wrong all night was step out of bounds at the NYG 44.
“We did a great job of taking the ball away,” Leonhard said. “We gave up too many yards, that was the biggest thing. We’ll take a look at the film and see what happened. We did a great job of getting the ball back to our offense and we are seeing it pay off right now.”
Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez turned the ball over three plays later and the Green & White couldn’t capitalize on a golden chance opportunity. While the Giants held the ball for 18:20 and amassed 13 first downs before intermission, the Jets made key stops and held their counterparts to just 2-of-8 on their third down conversions.
After missing all but one play of the preseason, Bart Scott returned to action and was sturdy along with Harris. He was in on the second play from scrimmage — stopping Brandon Jacobs for a 2-yard gain.
The Madbacker, who got caught in an unfavorable matchup with Ahmad Bradshaw in space on a 27-yard pass play in the second, was credited with four solos and four assists on the evening and looked spry applying some upfield pressure. In his only extended action of the preseason, Scott delivered some welcomed punishment.
“It was good to kind of push myself,” Scott said. “In most games, if you’re playing great defense, you’re only playing 60 snaps. So it was good to get 45 and close to a real game simulation. We would have loved to get off the field for a little rest, but it was good to get the heart rate going and push through. Next time when we get to No. 45, you’ve been there before and you can push through it.”
Harris had the interception, three solo tackles and four assists, and happily separated WR Mario Manningham from one pass.
“David had a couple of big hits and that’s what David can bring to the table,” Ryan said. “If you want to cross that middle a little bit, you kind of do it at your own risk. He’s a big hitter and I thought he did a good job.”
Nose tackle Sione Pouha sat for a second straight game with a knee injury, but Martin Tevaseu again held his own in the middle. Danny Ware (5 carries, 23 yards) and Brandon Jacobs (8-22) combined for 45 yards on 11 carries against one of the league’s stingiest rush defenses.
“MTV played very, very solid,” Scott said of the 6’2″, 325-pound Tevaseu. “He’s almost like a Bo like player. They’re similar in how they fire off the ball and get penetration. We know what Bo can do and he’ll make plays, but now we have depth. We can rotate these guys in and keep these guys fresh.”
After holding the Texans scoreless in two drives and then giving up one TD in eight drives against the Bengals, the Jets surrendered just a field goal to the G-Men on seven first-half possessions. Not to be overlooked, the second-teamers came on and allowed some yards before starting the third stanza with a goal-line stand.
There were some personnel changes on the defensive ball in the expedited offseason, but rest assured the Jets will again have one of the top units in football. The starters will probably get a rest on Thursday and the focus will soon shift to Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
Tags: Bart Scott, David Harris, first defense, Jim Leonhard, Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan
Posted in Eric Allen | 55 Comments »
Take a rookie quarterback, add a steady rain, and have him try to solve one of the toughest defensive secondaries in the league. Chaos will ensue more often than not, as was the case in the Jets’ 27-7 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night.
“The whole night played out pretty well for us,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “We said overthrows and tipped balls, you have to intercept those passes, and that’s exactly what happened. Last year we struggled with getting interceptions, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come.”
On the first play of the Bengals’ second drive from their 33, Dalton dropped back and fired a pass to fellow rookie A.J. Green. The ball careened off the wide receiver’s hands, and into the outstretched arms of Jets S Eric Smith.
“It definitely swings the momentum to our side,” said Smith. “Whenever you can take the first or second possession, get a turnover and let the offense score, it definitely swings the momentum our way.”
The interception by Smith drew a reaction from fans, and what followed was perhaps even more exciting. Smith pitched the ball to CB Darrelle Revis, who brought the ball down to the Bengals’ 16.
“When I caught it, I was stumbling,” said Smith. “I saw him out there. I figured I’d let him run with it. He had a better angle to get into the end zone.”
The lateral is not a play often used by defenses, as it provides an opportunity to give possession right back to the offense. Although there is risk involved with the maneuver, Revis believes it’s worth the potential reward.
“This year the coaches — especially our defensive coaches — are telling us to try to score on defense a lot more,” said Revis. “We haven’t been really successful in the past in getting defensive touchdowns, so you might see more of that this year.”
The interception by Smith, and his joint return with Revis, set up the Jets’ offense for a one-play touchdown drive. On the first play from scrimmage, QB Mark Sanchez found WR Santonio Holmes for a 16-yard TD to put the Jets up 7-0.
After another exchange of downs, the Bengals took over at their 27. Two quick incompletions put them at third-and-15. Dalton dropped back, looking for WR Andre Caldwell. Instead, he found Jets S Jim Leonhard, who intercepted his first pass since last Thanksgiving against the same Cincinnati squad.
The Jets’ secondary was wreaking havoc on the young QB as Dalton was 0-for-5 with two interceptions.
“That’s what we try to do,” said Leonhard. “If you’re inexperienced, or you’re struggling at QB, you don’t really want to play our defense. We put them in some tough situations. We were able to catch the ones he threw to us.”
Leonhard’s athletic return put the Jets deep into Cincinnati territory. Although the offense failed to push the ball into the end zone from the 10, K Nick Novak tacked on a 30-yard field goal to increase the lead to 10-0.
Leonhard missed the late-season stretch last year after breaking his leg in practice on Dec. 3. Having a safety of his caliber back in the lineup is a welcome sight for his fellow defensive backs.
“It’s good to see Jim back out there making plays,” said Revis. “I think it’s probably going to build some more confidence in him, knowing that he can still play this game. He’s still one of the leaders on this team.”
The defensive backfield is shaping up to be one of the most feared groups in the league. At the corners, Revis and CB Antonio Cromartie are consistent threats to make a play on the football every time it’s in the air.
With Leonhard back healthy and Smith gaining a starting role, the two will be the last line of defense for the Green & White.
“The emphasis this year was on trying to make more turnovers, playing the ball better,” said Smith. “I feel like we did that tonight. We just have to keep doing it from there. Those guys on the outside are going to do a good job, so it’s going to be on Jim and me in the middle.”
They’re off to a good start.
Tags: Andy Dalton, Antonio Cromartie, Cincinnati Bengals, Darrelle Revis, Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard
Posted in Andrew LeRay | 24 Comments »
Updated, 2:15 p.m. ET
Rex Ryan obviously doesn’t go by the NFL head coach’s book, and that includes the old rule about not giving starting jobs out on the second day of training camp, especially to rookies.
“Mo Wilkerson? He belongs. He’s the starting defensive end right now, the day he walked in here,” Ryan said at today’s news conference at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. “That’s why we drafted him, not to be a backup. He’s a big player. He and Brick were going at it yesterday.”
Wilkerson appreciates the good words from the boss but knows there’s a long way to go. ”I just have to worry about trying to do my best to try and help out the defense,” he said this afternoon. “Coming into the games, if I’m truly the starter, then so be it, but I’m definitely going to work hard to be the starter.”
We have a few of those photos up on the website, and it is interesting and significant to see first-round draft choice Muhammad Wilkerson running into left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, seemingly giving as good as he’s getting — and all this in Monday afternoon’s limited-pads workout.
“He’s a great athlete,” Mo said of Brick. “He has long arms just like me. He actually got me on one play yesterday, just had me stuck on the line, but that’s going to come when you’re playing against great guys like this.”
But what about Shaun Ellis? He remains a free agent, and all Mike Tannenbaum said is that the two sides are “talking.” But what if Ellis returns for his 12th season. For the last 10 years he’s been the primary starter at left end in the Jets’ different 3-4 incarnations. He’s third on the franchise’s all-time sack list. Would the Big Katt sit behind the rookie with the large wingspan?
“We don’t need guys to play every snap anymore,” Ryan said. “We brought in Trevor Pryce, who’s had some unbelievable years, to fill a purpose for us. If Shaun’s on this team, we’d start him, absolutely, but we brought this kid in to play.”
And as Rex said, he’d love to have Shaun back, “there’s no doubt.” But Wilkerson has just started to show his potential in green and white.
Ryan was asked about the familiar-looking white-haired gentleman on the sidelines of camp. He was very happy to talk up the addition and role of Tom Moore as a consultant on his coaching staff.
“Tom’s great,” Rex said of Moore, who joined the Colts as offensive coordinator and until this year was the only pro OC that Peyton Manning had ever worked with. “He’s really going to be Brian [Schottenheimer]‘s guy, whatever Brian wants him to do. It doesn’t get better than having Tom Moore sitting in that room with you. He’s been here already during the offseason working on a lot of things, not just red zone.
“We weren’t the only team that was trying to get Tom but we landed him.”
Moore is joined as a coaching consultant by Jim McNally, the longtime heralded OL coach for the Bengals, Panthers, Giants and Bills. The two are in camp now and once the season gets under way, they’ll be working primarily from their homes, breaking down video on upcoming opponents and otherwise bouncing ideas off of Rex, Brian and the rest of the Jets staff.
Another player who’s getting his fill of Ferguson is LB Jamaal Westerman. “Jamaal’s been up against Brick forever,” Ryan said. “When you’re going up against one of the elite players in this league day in, day out, one of two things happen. Either you just get beat down so bad and you go home and go on to your life’s work, or you get better. … That’s what this young man’s done.”
Rex said S Jim Leonhard is a little sore right now but still doing fine in his comeback from December’s broken leg and offseason rehab. So all signs are go at safety, but as far as punt returns, the coach said, “I don’t have the heart to tell him he won’t be doing that in a game.”
The coach gave a plug to first-year LB Garrett McIntyre. “I don’t want to play this guy up too much, but the Canadian kid, he’s one of those guys that’s a pain to block. He’s one of those relentless guys.” McIntyre, 26, has been around the football block, most recently last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, for whom he notched eight sacks, tied for fifth in the CFL, and four forced fumbles, first in the league north of the border.
Ryan on this year’s offense: “I still think we’re a ground-and-pound team. We’re deep. We’ve got four tailbacks that can go. We’re not going to disappoint you. We’re going to turn and give it to somebody. But I would say when it’s all said and done, we’ll pass the ball more than we did the first two years we’ve been here.”
Tags: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Garrett McIntyre, Jim Leonhard, Jim McNally, Muhammad Wilkerson, Rex Ryan, Tom Moore
Posted in Randy Lange | 37 Comments »