During his Monday afternoon press conference, Jets head coach Rex Ryan told the media he “would have been more than happy to trade” safety Eric Smith. But after proving himself to the coaching staff during OTA’s and mini-camp, Smith has found a home inside Ryan’s new defensive scheme.
Smith, who is in his fourth season in the NFL, is big reason why the Jets have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. Not only does Smith play safety, he also has the ability to play cornerback and early in season Ryan has at times allowed Smith to play linebacker.
“The thing with Smitty is he’s so valuable to us on defense. We put him everywhere,” said Ryan. “There are so many things you can do with him. The guy’s amazing how smart he is.”
Last week in the 24-17 win over the Titans he showed how valuable he is. He was as linebacker to spy Titans RB Chris Johnson. Then he showed his coverage skills as he made great individual effort to intercept QB Kerry Collins.
Smith was one of the players brought to New York by former coach Eric Mangini. One of the main reasons he was able to catch on in New York was ability to play multiple positions. (Don’t forget Smith is also a standout special-teams player.) Mangini always liked his players to be flexible in what they do on the football field.
But when Ryan got to New York he wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Michigan State alum. So unsure that he and GM Mike Tannenbaum brought in S Jim Leonhard through free-agency to become the starting strong safety. But that didn’t stop Smith from proving his value to the coaching staff. According to Ryan, Smith had the best mini-camp of everyone on the team. And even to this day, Ryan is glad Smith is still a Jet.
“All of us have a great deal of respect for the job that Eric can do. We put him in so many different roles,” said Ryan. “He knows the defense. He has learned the defense. It’s easy to plug him anywhere. He’s like a starter. He starts in a lot of packages for us, but he’s really like a starter for our defense.”