- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Yeremiah Bell is a steel-tough safety from a Kentucky mill town. LaRon Landry is a safety with a physique that looks like it was produced in one of those steel mills. Together, they expect to send a message to opposing tight ends -- yes, including the Gronk:
Watch your step.
"We're just not going to let guys run down the field," Bell said during a break at the New York Jets' training camp. "That's one thing we're not going to do. We're going to get our hands on them early and beat them up a little bit and make them earn that catch.
"When you come over the middle, and you have me and LaRon sitting there, that's something to think about," he continued. "So, yeah, we're going to give guys something to think about."
Anyone who watched the Jets last season knows their safeties, Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith, struggled to cover tight ends. They were too small and too slow. In one game, New England Patriots stud Rob Gronkowski was unstoppable, making the Jets resemble the Washington Generals.
The Jets identified safety as their top defensive priority in the offseason, so they jumped on Landry early in free agency. When Bell was released by the Miami Dolphins, the Jets wanted him so badly Rex Ryan made one of his famous home visits (shades of the Bart Scott midnight rendezvous), flying to South Florida the day after the draft.
They absolutely believe they have upgraded the safety position.
"Nothing against those two guys," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said of Smith and Leonhard, "but we look the part now."
There are questions about Bell's speed, and Landry is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury that started two years ago. Those are legitimate concerns. But what you have in Bell and Landry are a couple of old-school, rock-em, sock-em football players. That physical style, they believe, can get the job done.
Yes, even against the Gronk, a giant redwood who can run. Asked about the 6-foot-7 Gronkowski, Bell said the key is to hit him -- early and hard.
"The big thing in this league is timing," he said. "If he has to take two extra steps to get around us, that's one extra second the quarterback has to [look] off him. [Tom] Brady can't key on him the whole time. We're going to get our hands on him and rough him up a little bit. We're going to come after them."
Pettine believes Bell and Landry can cover the Gronk because of their size (Landry is 220 pounds) and toughness.
"If you try to put a smaller guy on him," Pettine said, "they're just bouncing off him."
Bell is one tough dude. After high school, he worked two years in a steel mill, making $8 an hour. No one offered him a football scholarship, so he had to save money to make it somewhere as a walk-on. That place was Eastern Kentucky.
He returned to the mill during the early part of his career with the Dolphins, developing mettle as he developed metal.
Bell already has established himself as a locker-room leader, reminding Ryan of former Jets fullback Tony Richardson. That's quite a compliment. The Jets really missed Richardson last season when the locker room was imploding.
At 34, Bell is near the end of his career, but he can be a galvanizing force in the secondary, replacing the well-respected Leonhard.
"I think the reason that I thought he would fit here was because of the style of defense that we play," said offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, Bell's head coach in Miami and a big reason why the Jets signed him. "Yeremiah is an aggressive player. He is a heck of a pressure player and I just thought that was a great fit."
Landry was the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, chosen by the Washington Redskins, and he was on his way to stardom before the injuries started in 2010. Before then, Mike Shanahan said Landry was the best defensive player he'd ever coached.
In Washington, Landry's nickname was "Dirty 30," for his jersey number and aggressive playing style. He's a monster around the line of scrimmage, a human missile crisis. He will be a huge factor in Pettine's blitz packages; he has linebacker size and strength with a safety's speed.
"I'm trying not to be one-dimensional," Landry said. "I love to do it all -- man-to-man coverage, blitzing, whatever."
For Landry and Bell, a big part of "whatever" will be covering tight ends. They intend to bring some hurt to the party.
Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry promise to play rough with opposing tight ends.