As the Jets begin the second half of their season Sunday in a hostile environment at Seattle, safety Eric Smith is encouraged that he will return to the lineup after having missed the three previous games with a sprained knee.
"It's coming along," Smith said. "I'm hoping to get back out there. As long as things keep going like they are, then yeah, I'll play."
The last time Smith played with the Green & White was during the Jets' 23-17 loss against Houston on Oct. 8. In that game, he was on the field for a season-high 23 plays.
The knee, which he originally injured in the preseason, was then aggravated during a midweek practice following the loss to the Texans. At the time, head coach Rex Ryan believed the injury was much worse than it resulted being.
"Our leader on special teams is Eric Smith," Ryan said at his news conference this morning. "And when you look at the value that Eric brings to this football team as a defensive player, we recognize that, too. He's in a lot of packages. We play three safeties. He's basically a starter out there as a safety."
Smith used the bye week as extended time to recover. The players were supposed to practice the first two days of the week, but Hurricane Sandy cancelled those plans. And luckily for Smith, he never lost power at his home. He said his power flashed around three times, but that was all.
"It was a strange one with the hurricane and everybody losing power and not being able to get gas," Smith said. "But it was a good time to have a bye week."
Ryan along with Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff couldn't be more thrilled about the thought of getting No. 33 back on the field.
"What he does for your special teams, it's hard to measure. We give up a kick return where Eric Smith's spot would be. We give up an onside kick where Eric Smith's spot would be. We give up a blocked kick, well, Eric might've been there," Ryan said about the special teams errors against the Dolphins. "Now that he's back, you feel really good about it. He's about as smart a player as I've been around, so he makes others around him better just with his communication. So I'm really happy that Eric's back."
Westhoff said what makes Smith so difficult to replace is the versatility he brings to the field. He described a situation during the Jets' loss at New England last month where Smith's presence was sorely missed.
"When we went into New England," Westhoff said, "we were the No. 1 coverage team in the National Football League. They ran a return to the side where they had four blockers and we had five guys. Eric Smith's usually one of those five. One of our guys is a young guy. He just made a mistake. He just ran out of position and it opened up a cavity. Eric wouldn't have made that mistake. Does that mean we would have made the play? I believe we would have. But these are things you have to deal with."
The last time the Jets faced the Seahawks was in 2008, a game Seattle won, 13-3. Like Sunday's contest will be, that meeting in 08 was played on the road in the same stadium and atmosphere that Smith hasn't forgotten. Seattle is 4-0 at home this season and he believes that the CenturyLink Field crowd noise is what makes it so difficult for opposing teams to win there.
"It is loud," he said. "It's probably one of the loudest stadiums I've played in. It's a tough place to play. We're going to have to come be on top of our game and ready to go."