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If E.Coleman Can't Go, These Safeties Can

Head coach Eric Mangini's announced that Erik Coleman's injury was updated to a concussion in this morning's news conference, and fellow safety Kerry Rhodes made a proclamation of his own just minutes later in the Jets' open locker room at Weeb Ewbank Hall.

"The younger guys will have to step up in this role," stated Rhodes, who is just 25 years old himself. "We're just looking for them to step it up if he's not able to play."

If Coleman cannot suit up, the Jets secondary will be taking a big hit. The veteran from Washington State has been a leader on the field, starting in 50 of 52 games for the Jets since being drafted in the fifth round in 2004. Coleman also has 35 total tackles this season, which leads the team.

But there are very worthy substitutes on call for defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

Second-year safety Eric Smith has seen a lot of playing time even behind such proven safeties in Coleman and Rhodes. Smith made the most of his opportunities as a rookie, accounting for two interceptions and 27 total tackles in a reserve and special teams role. The Michigan State alum also had five solo tackles in the Jets playoff loss to New England in January.

"I like his ball skills and his ability to play in the deep part of the field," Mangini said of Smith, who was taken in the third round in 2006. "One of the things we liked about him in college and last year was his ability to tackle effectively, and that gives you a good box presence. But he also has above-average ball skills, which you don't always find that combination."

Another dependable defensive back is veteran safety Rashad Washington, who also happens to be a member of Coleman's 2004 draft class. Although Washington's role on the Green & White has been primarily as a special-teamer, the Kansas State product has worked alongside Rhodes in every camp and at every practice for past three seasons. Washington has 51 career special teams tackles to go along with 22 tackles on defense since 2005.

"Those guys are ready to play. They know how to play this game," Rhodes said of Coleman's possible replacements. "They're smart guys. Everybody we've got here is capable of playing."

"If the opportunity does present itself, I will take advantage of it," Smith said. "We're still a few days off so we'll just have to wait and see what happens. But if the challenge presents itself on Sunday, I'll be ready to go — it's the same thing every week."

Washington, just a couple of lockers down from Rhodes, is taking a similar approach.

"You've got to be prepared because you never know when your chance might be," he said. "People go down every week so there's always a good opportunity for someone to step in."

"I've worked a lot with Kerry in practice and in quite a few games last year," he added. "But it doesn't matter if I get the start, I just want to be out there to help the team anyway I can."

If it means taking a back seat to Smith this weekend, Washington knows it will be best for the team. He too, sees a playmaker with a ton of potential in the younger safety.

"I think he gets better every day," he said of Smith. "I feel like as young guy he has a great idea of the things he needs to work on. He goes out and does that day in and day out."

Whether it's Smith, Washington or even Coleman making a return to the field on Sunday, Rhodes will have complete faith in each of them and the defense in general.

"We've got guys on this team that want to win and we're going to fight," he said, "And when we fight, we have a good chance."

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