With Jets safety Eric Smith likely not available until the start of the season at the earliest, the pressure is now on free agent signings Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry to step up ahead of Saturday night’s preseason game against the Giants.
Smith, the most veteran member of the Jets’ group of safeties, sprained his MCL on Friday night in the loss to the Bengals. In doing so, the Jets lose a player who Bell praised for his knowledge of the scheme and helping him learn the playbook. Both Bell and Landry are NFL veterans, but since both are new to the team, it will be a challenge for them to replace Smith.
It is especially worrisome since the Jets chose not to re-sign Jim Leonhard this offseason who was considered the “quarterback of the secondary” because he called out the coverages and had an intricate knowledge of the defense.
“You know I think Jimmy was a great player for us. He knew the system, but you’re talking about two physically gifted players, and you’re talking about players that also have experience,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “Yeremiah Bell has experience in this system because this system started with Mike Nolan back in 2002 in Baltimore. So he was familiar with the terms and it was easy for him to come in and understand what we were doing, and pick up the system very fast. When you talk about Landry, you’re talking about, once again, a superior athlete that’s great in space. He’s fast and explosive, and we all know he loves to work out.”
Both Bell and Landry come with question marks though it would surprise no one if both turned into key performers for the Jets.
At 34 years old, the general consensus is that Bell is on the downside of his career, especially with the amount of acreage he needs to cover at safety. But in each of the past four seasons, Bell has topped 100 tackles and has been a key performer for the Dolphins. In addition, he is entering just his ninth season in the NFL as he took two years off between high school and college, meaning that he doesn’t have the typical wear and tear on his body of most players in their mid-30s.
In giving Bell a rave review, Ryan called him “a complete safety — a down-in-the-box guy, a high safety, a man-cover safety and a zone-cover safety. You name it, he’s seen it and done it. He’s an outstanding blitzer, inside and outside, and he’s a natural leader.”
Then there’s Landry, who comes with the reputation for being a hard hitter … when he’s actually on the field.
Landry is coming off an Achilles injury that has been slow to heal but as training camp continues his involvement has gone up. But he hasn’t played a full 16 games at any point in the last three seasons.
“I feel good. Things are coming along, communication is coming along. Physically, I feel fine. I feel ready. Each and every day, I am out there and I am ready to go,” Landry said. “I set the bar high. I am my worst critic. I really grade myself tough.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for more preseason news.