The Jets might line up against the Patriots Sunday in Foxboro, Mass., without their quarterback — their defensive QB, that is.
Safety Jim Leonhard suffered a broken right thumb against the Jaguars on Sunday, had surgery on Monday, and had a large black cast covering his hand today.
"I think he's got three screws in there," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "If they can tighten 'em up for gametime, we'll see. But he's a tough kid, I'm telling you. An average guy, no way he plays. But Jim Leonhard's not an average guy."
The 5'8", 186-pound Leonhard is third on the defense with 58 tackles and he also has 1.5 sacks and one interception this season. If he can't go, the Green & White will likely turn to fourth-year pro Eric Smith. Playing predominantly in the "Spartan" package when the Jets go to six DBs, Smith has totaled 16 tackles, one interception and four PDs.
"You know Smitty's going to come in there and do his job," said S Kerry Rhodes. "He's a smart guy and a heady guy, a guy who's played well for us. We're confident in him. He's played with me before, so I know he'll get the job done."
Leonhard, who lined up in Ryan' s defensive system last year in Baltimore, has been impressed with Smith's knowledge of the D.
"He's been very comfortable from day one," Leonhard said. "You can tell he gets it, he understands football and he understands what we're trying to do. I think sometimes in the situation he is in, he's been able to sit back, watch and pick up a lot of the core things we're doing in case he plays. He is a guy who doesn't have to make a mistake to learn."
If Leonhard is forced out of action, LB David Harris will don the green dot on his helmet and receive the play calls. Ryan also indicated that S James Ihedigbo, a physical 6'1", 210-pounder in his third season with the Jets, could be used more. But Smith figures to get the bulk of the snaps if Leonhard can't find a way to go.
"I feel really comfortable with it [the defense]," Smitty said. "I pretty much know all the checks, the different looks we're going to give, things that I need to get communicated to the corners and the linebackers."
After limiting the Patriots to just three field goals in their first meeting, the Jets have observed that the prolific Pats are attacking teams differently.
"They're trying to run the ball more a little bit more and they're running a lot more personnel groups," Leonhard said of the NFL's second-ranked offense. "We mainly saw three wide receivers and one tight end the first time. They've gone away from that — they're switching their personnel groups and giving you different looks."
"They've incorporated [Randy]Moss more, trying to get him the ball more on every down, not just on certain downs," added Rhodes of the star wideout coming off his nine-catch, 179-yard, two-TD effort against the Colts. "They're trying to get the ball deep."
Fortunately, New York's AFC representative has Darrelle Revis to stick on Moss. Revis held Moss to just four catches in their Week 2 meeting and the league's top cornerback also hauled in an interception during the victory.
"Sometimes that situation will dictate where he's going to be 1-on-1," Smith said, "and with somebody like Revis out there, you have a lot of confidence that he's going to be able to cover him or make the quarterback go somewhere else with the ball."
The Patriots should be a much more difficult team to defend this time around as the Jets are without NT Kris Jenkins and they'll also see dangerous WR Wes Welker, who missed their first matchup but leads the Pats with 64 receptions. Leonhard hopes that he'll have the opportunity to face Tom Brady once more as they look to complete a season sweep and move to within one game of the AFC East leaders.
"When I get a chance to go out there and find out just what I can and cannot do with this hand, then we'll go from there," Leonhard said. "It's a tough decision, obviously. You want to put our team in the best position to win and I feel like that's with me out there. But if it's something I can't do, I have to realize that. We'll see."