Smith wraps up WR Wes Welker
The first to reach punt returner Kyle Wilson when racing down the field on the punt coverage team, Jets safety Eric Smith embodies the idea of leading by example. A veteran that has manned multiple roles in the Jets secondary and on special teams in the past, Smith will again be looking to provide a stabilizing presence to the group of defensive backs in 2010.
While not projected to start at safety in the team's base 3-4 package, Smith is set to play a pivotal role in a number of different situations this season for the team. With projected starters Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool in front of him, Smith envisions scenarios where the Jets talented secondary (which also features lockdown cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie) can dominate the playing field. The Jets have a ton of talent in the back end of their defense, and each player will have a role on the team.
"We have so much depth in the secondary," Smith said. "You'll probably see three safeties, four, five, six, even seven defensive backs on the field at the same time because everyone we have can play. It's hard to say what everyone's role is going to be because it can change from week to week."
The versatility and flexibility that exists in the secondary will allow head coach Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman to experiment with lineups that can match up against a variety of offensive sets. Despite not using him as a starter, Ryan believes that Smith is even more valuable in his current role as a jack of all trades on defense and special teams.
"With Eric, it's not the fact that you're a starter — he starts in so many things that we do defensively anyways," Ryan said. "He's out there all the time. Maybe it's not running out there with that first unit, but he does so much for us. He could be a starter in this league. There's no doubt he could be a starter in this league and he's started for us, but in an ideal situation for us, we'd have Eric do what he did for us last year because he did so much for us last year."
That role that Smith filled last year involved a variety of positions in all types of complex defensive schemes and situations. As a key member of those lineups, Smith will certainly be seen and heard from on the field this year. While not a boisterous presence, Smith's teammates say that he is a wonderful communicator on the field. For a newcomer like Pool, that communication has been crucial.
"Eric has an awesome character and is a good guy." Pool said. "He talks and when I first came here he was helping me out. Eric is a good guy and has a lot of talent. I think to get where we want to be we have to keep communicating. We have a good group and a talented group and Eric is a big part of that."
Although Smith is low-key off the field, he described his favorite part of the game as hitting and making contact. With elite playmakers like Revis and Cromartie on the outside and Bart Scott and David Harris on the inside, Smith joked that the safeties could get bored because of the cornerbacks' and linebackers' penchant to make tackles and break up passes. When a play comes his way, he's fully ready to make the hit. When it doesn't, he has the ability to communicate with his teammates to assist them on their assignments.
"Guys are coming in and making sure that we can learn the system as fast as possible," said Cromartie, a newcomer to the unit. "We want to be the number one defense in the NFL again and have one of the best secondaries in the NFL this upcoming year. Eric is a great guy, a leader and comes out and communicates well. That helps a lot when you come in here and are learning the system."
Smith is a valuable contributor to a defense that makes plays and prevents opponents from scoring and moving the ball. In his four seasons with the Jets, he has four interceptions and 147 tackles. Last season he started four games and made a career-high 48 tackles. This season he believes his production will increase and the entire defense will be even better than last season. It's hard to top being first in numerous statistical categories like last season, but Smith thinks this defense can get it done.
"Things are going pretty well," Smith said. "We've got the new guys like Brodney and Cromartie, they're a big help. I think we definitely improved on the team we had last year. We're expecting another good year like last year."