Smith wraps up WR Wes Welker
Safety Erik Coleman returned to the practice field this week after missing his first career NFL game last Sunday against the New York Giants. The fourth-year safety was out with a concussion he received against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4, but the Jets coaching staff is in no rush to get him back onto the field on Sundays and Eric Smith is making that decision a lot easier for them.
Smith made his first career NFL start when he filled in for Coleman during Sunday's loss to the Giants. Smith was used in 15 games last season and had two interceptions to go along with 27 tackles, so the transition from backup to starter wasn't difficult or awkward for him.
"It wasn't too different," said Smith, who started 36 career games at Michigan State. "I prepare as though I'm going to play every week, so this time it was only different because I was out there earlier and more often. It went well. I was fine."
Although Coleman has technically returned, his participation was limited Wednesday and today, meaning Sunday's game against the Eagles could be career start No. 2 for Smith. Eric Mangini said in today's news conference that Coleman is continuing to progress in his recovery from the dangerous injury.
"He's moving right along in terms of the program that we have in place for him," said the second-year head coach. "That was another step in the process. We'll continue to evaluate him. He will visit with the doctors and the trainers, and we will get updates. It's the same with all the injured guys, and then you move them to the next step."
And of Smith's play, Mangini said, "I thought he did well. He made a couple of plays early."
Smith didn't waste any time making his presence felt. On the first Giants possession, he swatted away an Eli Manning pass to Pro Bowl TE Jeremy Shockey on third-and-7 from the Giants 27, forcing the home team to punt it after three quick snaps.
"The play on the 7-route to Shockey, I thought it was a nice play, coming in and breaking it up early in the game," Mangini said.
"It's good to get into action that early," Smith said, "because once you get into it early, you get in the flow real quick. But you have to make the play regardless whether it's at the beginning of the game or the end of the game. It's not like I really have any choice or preference."
On the next series, with the Big Blue offense was pinned inside its 10, Smith teamed up with rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis to swipe away a deep throw to Burress.
"It was a first-down play and they were backed up, so I was expecting a little bit of run and I was a little short going through the middle of the field," Smith said. "Then I turned and ran and Revis did a nice job coming over, too, and we broke the play up."
Smith then came up big on the ensuing play, assisting DE Eric Hicks in stuffing RB Brandon Jacobs for no gain. It was these two plays by Smith that set up the Kerry Rhodes forced fumble and touchdown return to put the Jets up, 7-0.
The former MSU Spartan also had an assisted tackle on kick coverage. It was on Mike Westhoff's special teams where Smith carved out his niche last season and where he has continued to thrive this year, despite getting summoned more and more by defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
"He has a substantial role on special teams, so he was wearing a lot of different hats," Mangini said. "It was in line with how he had been practicing during training camp. It gets a little bit better."
Even though it was highly anticipated that Smith would get last week's start, none of his family members was able to make the trip east.
"All my family is in Ohio, so they didn't come out to the game," he explained. "But I had some calls from some friends saying congratulations on the start."