August 25, 2010 - No matter how good a defense is upfront and with their corners, the last line of defense is always the safeties. If your safeties are constantly getting beat it means your constantly giving up big plays. Having two quality safeties is of the utmost importance when making sure you have a secure, impenetrable, Fort Knox style defense.
Everyone who follows the NFL knows that the Jets had the number one defense in the league last year. They also have no problem rattling off some of the big names on defense, but there are a couple key members of the secondary who often fly under the radar.
Last year the Jets brought in a rookie quarterback, a new head coach along with his new defensive schemes and a extremely vocal and energetic linebacker in Bart Scott. But they also managed to sneak another player right into the starting lineup without much of a reaction either way. Scott wasn’t the only player to follow Rex Ryan from the Ravens to the Jets, safety Jim Leonhard also followed his coach and immediately took over as quarterback of the defense.
It’s understandable that people might overlook Leonhard, after all seeing him in street clothes doesn’t exactly make one think, this guy has to be a football player. Leonhard is only 5′8″, 188 Lbs., but his impact on the field is unmeasurable. The Jet defense is not your average run of the mill defense, it is a very complex system involving multiple moving pieces designed to confuse the offense and give the defenders freedom to be aggressive. The idea being if the offense can’t identify who is blitzing and from where, or who is covering who, then they will have no clue where to go with the ball.
Ryan’s defensive involves multiple versatile pieces that can be moved all over the field leaving the opposing quarterback clueless as to where each and every defender is. Leonhard knows this is just one of the reasons this defense had so much success last year. Leonhard said, “That’s what makes this defense what it is, having players that can play multiple roles. You look at a Eric Smith or James Ihedigbo in the back end. Dwight Lowry, Calvin Pace upfront, Bryan Thomas, guys like that. You don’t know where they are gonna line up or what their responsibility is going to be and that makes it extremely hard for an offense because they don’t know how to identify people. Whose rushing, whose dropping?”
The versatility of each and every defender is a big part of what makes this defense so dominate, but it also puts more responsibility on Leonhard as the quarterback of the defense to make sure that everyone knows where they should be lining up and what their assignment is. The responsibility maybe a challenge for some, but it’s something that Leonhard is extremely proud of. Leonhard said, “ Obviously the more moving pieces you have, it makes it a little harder if your trying to get everyone lined up or communicate, but that’s what makes this defense great. The more that you understand the big picture of it, which I feel I have a pretty good understanding of it, the more you can help everybody out and put yourself and others in position to make plays.”
Ask Ryan about Leonhard and you’ll eventually have to ask him to stop. Ryan loves to gush about Leonhard particularly about his intelligence and how he helps his teammates out by making sure they are always in the right position. Leonhard is a force who constantly makes an impact in his own right, but his influence lives in every other defender and it is his job to make sure the new guys fit in smoothly with what the defense is trying to accomplish.
Last year it was Leonhard who flew under the radar, this year it’s another free agent safety who has gotten lost amongst all the big name acquisitions. Fans know all about Cromartie, Taylor, Holmes, L.T. and the rookie corner Kyle Wilson, but there is another new guy in the secondary who the Jets are expecting big things from.
Brodney Pool spent the first five years in NFL obscurity playing for the Cleveland Browns, but Rex Ryan had seen enough film and heard enough great things about Pool from his brother (Rob Ryan defensive coordinator of the Browns) to convince him that Pool is just the type of player to fit perfectly in this defense. Ask any of his teammates or coaches and you will hear the excitement they have when talking about what he brings to the team.
When asked how Pool was fitting into his defense Ryan said, “Brodney’s doing well… He would have all those things down, but you don’t realize that he’s new to this system. Some of the specific checks, he still has to see and experience it. He’s doing really well for us.”
Leonhard echoed Ryan’s assessment of Pool saying, “He has been a huge addition. The way that he plays, he is a very aggressive safety, he wants to get down and dirty in the box and hit people. He has great range so once again he is another very versatile guy in this defense. He can blitz, he can cover, it’s huge for this defense and he picked everything up very quickly this offseason, which I give him a lot of credit for that.”
But just like Ryan, Leonhard knows Pool still has some mistakes to make and learn from. Leonhard said, “In training camp he’s made a lot of plays, there are things where he might of made a mistake, but it would be the first time he saw it and then you correct it and move on, that’s what training camp is for. Especially in this system because there is so much going on and he’s been great. The communication between him and myself has been very good… He’s picked everything up very quickly.”
With all the talk about the complexities of the defense, there is one person who actually thinks this defensive system makes it easier on him because of what it allows for him to do and that would be the newcomer, Pool. Pool said, “You know what? I actually don’t think it’s as complicated as people might think it is. It’s more annoying, just the little things, and they give you a lot of freedom, but as long as you know what your doing that’s a good thing. It helps you play faster, I think they made it to where the defense, they don’t want guys out there thinking too much. Compared to the past defenses I’ve been in this is actually a lot better.”
It maybe just the small things that are causing him problems now, but Ryan and his coaches are always harping on the small details. However by all accounts it’s just a matter of time before everything fully clicks for Pool. Just like the other defenders on the team Pool is a versatile player, who understands the importance of versatility throughout the defense. Pool said, “I know for a fact that it (defensive versatility) causes offenses problem. When you can give an offense that many different looks just because of the personal you have… it makes it much harder on the quarterback and in this league the harder you make it on the quarterback the better chance you have to win.”
The coaches all see Pool progressing nicely just as they hoped for when they signed him. Leonhard and the rest of the secondary are taking notice as well. The stronger Pool plays, the more they can trust him and the more they can focus on their roles and being aggressive in their own right.
Communication is the most important word thrown around by the defense, because that’s the difference between making this system simple or complicated for the players. The simplier it is for them the more complicated it makes things for the opposing offense. The Jets already had the number one ranked defense last year and they all seem extra motivated to improve, which should give opposing quarterbacks plenty of sleepless nights in the week before they play the Jets. All while the Jets sleep peacefully at night, feeling secure with their safeties.