Eric Smith's Safety Play Is Picking Up Speed

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It's still kind of cool for June in New Jersey, but Eric Smith is on a hot streak.

Smith, the fourth-year safety, had a huge day Tuesday with three interceptions in the first two practices of the full-squad minicamp. This morning he had an outstanding pass breakup.

"Things are going pretty well," Smith said with a smile after today's first session. "Everything's a lot of fun — the scheme, the guys, the meetings. It's very entertaining."

Smith's recent entertainees include one of the Green & White's most important spectators: head coach Rex Ryan.

"His three interceptions yesterday, I think that was pretty darned impressive," Ryan said at today's news conference between the open practices at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "He's really taken off for us, he's really improving. Here's a veteran player who came in, I don't know if he was a little disgruntled at where he was initially on the depth chart. That first minicamp, maybe he wasn't putting out his best. Ever since that time, you see him taking off."

Smith said his upturn is not all attributable to the fun factor. The scheme, he said, gives safeties "a little more freedom" after the calls are made, which translates into playing "a lot faster."

Then there's the answer man for Smith, a.k.a. Jim Leonhard, who quarterbacked the Ravens' secondary last season.

"I'm still learning from Jimmy. He knows everything," Smith said. "I'll come to him and he'll tell me, 'Play it this way and you'll have a better shot.' The next thing you know, I'm picking the ball off."

There's still a long training camp to go, and that's a month and a half away, but similar Smith contributions can make a very good secondary even better. Plus he's an example of what's happening all around the Jets.

"You see that with a lot of the guys. They're getting more familiar with the defense," Ryan said. "And like I told them, now that you know the system, now you try to master it. That's what we're trying to do: master the little things of both systems, offense and defense, and that's the focus of this camp."

Rex Gone Wild?

The Wildcat pounced in the NFL last year, especially for the Miami Dolphins. And that trend has been noted by Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who ran a number of Wildcat formations at this morning's full-squad minicamp practice with Leon Washington and Brad Smith in the backfield and Kellen Clemens lined up at wideout.

"Those are things we're going to look at. It kind of took the league by storm," Ryan said. "If you have those kinds of athletes, you have a Leon Washington and a Brad Smith, I think that's going to be a great thing.

"And really with the Dolphins, you can expect them with the young quarterback they drafted [Pat White from West Virginia], they'll put him back there. So it's a great opportunity for our defense to get a look at that stuff and it's a great changeup for our offense. And Brian's done that in the past."

Besides the effects that a single-wing direct-snap play or set of plays can have during a game, there is the effect of having the upcoming opponent having to gameplan for it.

"If you can pull some prep time from the other things you run, that helps," he said. "We can do it one play or we can do it 60 plays. As a coordinator, you've got to make sure everything's covered."

Competition Through Collaboration

Ryan's latest take on his quarterback competition was how well Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez are working together.

"I'll hear them getting on the receivers running routes for the other quarterback when he's in there," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen that before. They really are pulling for each other, and they understand that the competition will make them both better."

Practice Notes

TE Kareem Brown made some outstanding catches. Rex: "I thought he had a huge day today." And the day's only half over. ... Other nice grabs were made by TE Dustin Keller down the deep middle and WR Jerricho Cotchery on a slant, both on sharp passes from Kellen Clemens. ... Rookie RB Shonn Greene, overcoming those drops from the rookie minicamp, made two excellent receptions in early drills.

CB Donald Strickland and LB Brandon Renkart had emphatic PDs. ... Ryan and DC Mike Pettine continue to give 360-pound NT Kris Jenkins work at DE. Ryan: "He'll probably spend most of his time over center, but this is definitely something we intend to do." ... Morning attendance was 978 fans, afternoon was 1,263 for a total of 1,123. Not bad for an overcast Wednesday. ... We'll have a feature on just re-signed punter Reggie Hodges later today.

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