Heading into the offseason, the New York Jets most obvious need, along with Right Tackle, was undoubtedly the Safety position. To say the Jets were poor in this part of their secondary last year would be an understatement, and in a division where you face two of the NFL’s top tight ends, in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, twice a year, safety play is crucial to the success of a defense. The Jets have taken another step in addressing the position by adding free agent Yeremiah Bell this past Friday. Bell will join LaRon Landry and rookies Josh Bush and Antonio Allen as the four safeties New York has added this offseason.
There are some concerns about how Bell will fit in, since he is very similar to Landry in terms of play. Like Landry, Bell is a very physical safety whose talents are best utilized in run support. So, the obvious question that comes about is why the Jets would add two strong safety types, when the greater need is in coverage. However, there are numerous factors as to why this signing makes sense.
1.) The Jets will be taking a more physical approach toward covering tight ends this season. While New York needs people who can keep up with guys like Gronkowski and Hernandez, they could be moving more towards a scheme that requires the safeties to play more physical in coverage. This includes a heavy amount of jamming at the line of scrimmage, while doing anything possible to disrupt the routes of the opposing tight ends. The Jets could certainly run packages where they put both Landry and Bell in press type coverage, while allowing someone like rookie Josh Bush, who has fantastic cover skills, to play in a centerfield type role, where he excelled in college. With the ability to bring in Bush, Eric Smith, and Kyle Wilson as the nickel corner, expect New York to mix it up with personnel in the defensive backfield through a number of various schemes to keep opposing offenses on their toes.
2.) Bell gives the Jets much needed veteran depth at the safety position. Besides Landry and Smith, the other four safeties on New York’s roster have played in a combined 12 NFL games. Although rookies Antonio Allen and Bush are very promising, combining them with DeAngelo Smith and Tracy Wilson as your only backups in the event that Eric Smith or the injury prone Landry get hurt would be an idiotic move. Veterans in the secondary will be crucial not only to the success of the defense, but also to the development of the young guys.
3.) Jim Leonhard is not healing well enough from his season ending knee injury for the Jets to commit to him. The Bell signing most likely signifies the end of Jim Leonhard’s run as a Jet. Leonhard has been a valuable piece to Rex Ryan’s defense since joining his defensive mentor in coming to New York three seasons ago. However, season ending leg injuries in each of the past two years have seemed to seal his fate with the Jets. If this is, in fact, the end of Leonhard in the green and white, his cerebral contributions, and constant fire and tenacity to Ryan’s scheme will surely be missed, and will be difficult to duplicate. Unfortunately, though, health has caused Leonhard to become too much of a liability for the Jets to invest in.
Although it may not sit well with most fans, opting for Bell over Leonhard is a smart, safe move. Since his rookie season, in which he played in 13 games, Bell has played in all 16 games in each of his 8 seasons in the NFL, with the exception of 2007 when he suffered a torn Achilles in week one, which sidelined him for the entire year. Since recovering, Bell has never missed a game, while recording over 100 tackles in each season following his injury.
Other than the concern that Bell is too similar to Landry in terms of ability, another popular issue that has caused some alarm for Jet fans is how he will be able to pick up Rex Ryan’s complex defensive system. Although he may not be on Jim Leonhard’s level anytime soon, the notion that Bell will not be able to pick up the scheme because it is too complicated is being blown way out of proportion. Every defense in the NFL is complex, and Bell is a professional. While it certainly may take some time for him to truly get comfortable, he should get a full grasp of the defensive concept in no time. Fortunately for him, he has a great amount of time between now and the start of training camp, and will be surrounded by players like Darrelle Revis and Eric Smith, who are very familiar with the scheme, to help him adjust mentally.