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Bad break: Jets lose safety Leonhard for season with leg injury

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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The New York Jets will be without their defensive quarterback for the rest of the season.

Safety Jim Leonhard, who calls the defensive signals in the secondary, has a broken right leg that required surgery Friday night, hours after he was injured during a collision at practice.

The Jets declined to speculate on Leonhard's status until after the surgery, but NFL Network and Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported that the safety wouldn't play again this season.

"I just think we were all crushed," Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "He's such a tough guy, and normally he bounces back, bounces right up from stuff."

The team announced that Leonhard's tibia was scheduled to be operated on at Morristown Memorial Hospital, located a few miles from the Jets' training facility. Team spokesman Bruce Speight said the shin bone didn't break the skin, and there was no damage to Leonhard's fibula, ankle or knee.

The injury came three days before the Jets (9-2) visit the New England Patriots (9-2) on Monday night in a meeting for first place in the AFC East.

"That was a huge blow to us," said Jets coach Rex Ryan, who also coached Leonhard as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2008. "He's a huge part of what we do."

Leonhard was injured during team drills -- which are closed to the media -- and carted from the field. He collided with wide receiver Patrick Turner as the two went up for a ball late in practice.

"I just knew we ran into each other, and he was in pain," Turner said. "He was just grabbing his shin."

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Turner and other Jets said there was nothing extraordinary about the play to make them initially believe Leonhard was seriously hurt.

"It wasn't the hardest collision," Turner said.

Said safety James Ihedigbo: "It was one of those collisions where you're like, 'OK, he'll probably pop right back up. He's a tough kid.' We just figured he'd be all right, that he just got banged up."

Eric Smith will replace Leonhard as the Jets' starting safety opposite Brodney Pool. Smith will call the signals as Leonhard normally does.

"We feel sorry for Jim, we feel terrible for Jim," Ryan said. "But we don't feel sorry for ourselves. We know it's a big loss, but we'll be ready to move on Monday without him."

Leonhard, a six-year veteran, is third on the team with 66 tackles, and he has an interception and a fumble recovery this season, his second with New York.

"He's the commander in chief back there, gets everybody lined up and communicates all kinds of different things," Ihedigbo said. "He's looked at as the quarterback of the defense."

Smith, known as a hard hitter, is in his fifth season with the Jets and has started 18 games in his career, including the first three this year while Pool was sidelined with an ankle injury.

"I'm going to prepare the same way I always do, but it's going to be a big step taking over Jim's job," Smith said. "We've got confidence we'll get it done."

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Leonhard also returns punts, ranking among the NFL leaders with an 11.3-yard average. Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said that duty now will fall to several players, including Jerricho Cotchery, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson.

"We'll put together whatever package best suits us," Westhoff said. "Jerricho is probably the steadiest, and then maybe get him involved at two-deep with one of those other guys."

Cotchery, who missed the last two games with a groin injury, has averaged 9.4 yards per punt return in his seven-year career.

Leonhard broke his right thumb in a game a year ago, but he didn't miss any time while playing with a cast. He's a personal favorite of Ryan, who brought him along from Baltimore shortly after he became the Jets' coach in January 2009.

"It is a damper, but the way this team is now, we don't want to let Jim down," Ryan said. "We are going to find a way to get it done. And that's what I'm banking on. Do I think we'll win the game? Absolutely."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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