Positional analysis: Safety

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
7:55
AM ET
This is the 13th part in our daily, position-by-position breakdown of the Jets’ roster. Friday: Special teams.

Focus: Safety.

Depth chart: Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard, James Ihedigbo, Emanuel Cook, Will Billingsley, Richard Taylor.

Expiring contracts: Pool, Smith, Ihedigbo.

Rear-view mirror: It was a season of upheaval, the biggest blow coming when Leonhard suffered a season-ending broken leg in a December practice. He was the rock of the secondary, and it took a few weeks to adjust. The Leonhard-Pool-Smith troika didn’t distinguish itself. There weren’t many big plays, and too often the safeties were victimized in pass coverage. That was the book on the Jets: Avoid Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on the corners, and try to isolate a safety over the middle.

Pool was slow to learn the system in his first season with the Jets, failing to win the free-safety job coming out of camp, but he settled down around midseason and was the Jets’ most improved player over the second half. He didn’t allow any touchdown passes, according to Stats, LLC, and finished with nine pass-breakups. Pool was better in coverage than as an in-the-box safety. Smith’s value increased when Leonhard went down; he became the “quarterback” of the secondary. Smith was exposed in coverage, resulting in a few costly pass-interference penalties. All told, he committed four penalties for 83 yards. Ihedigbo was a specialist, playing in dime and quarter packages, most effective as a blitzer.

Numbers game: The safeties combined for a mere two interceptions – one piece by Pool and Leonhard.

Crystal ball: Leonhard should return to his starting role, assuming there are no setbacks in his rehab. It will be a long road and he might not be ready for football drills until late spring or early summer. The Jets need a rangy, big-play safety opposite Leonhard, a player who can be a ballhawk in their Cover-1 system. Pool showed signs of becoming that guy late in the season, but he will be a free agent. The Jets don’t want to spend big for a safety, and it shouldn’t cost much to retain Pool, but UCLA’s Rahim Moore will be an intriguing option with the 30th pick. Smith and Ihedigbo, solid role players, should return on low-cost deals.

Positional rating (scale 1 to 10): 6.5

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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