Replacing Leonhard Isn't A Kick

With the loss of Jim Leonhard due to season-ending injury, the Jets need to fill his void at safety and on special teams.

Florham Park, NJ – With the news that Jim Leonhard is out for the season following a broken leg suffered in practice on Friday afternoon, the New York Jets are not only scrambling to replace their more consistent safety but also a reliable punt returner. The safety was carted off the field following a collision with practice squad receiver Patrick Turner as both players went for a ball thrown by quarterback Mark Brunell.

Leonhard, in his second year with the team, has been a virtual constant on special teams this year for the Jets with his punt returns. Averaging 11.3 yards per return, Leonhard was tied for eighth as the best returner in the NFL. Making matters worse, he seemed to be hitting his stride during this crucial stretch of the season, as evidenced by his 32-yard return last Thursday night against Cincinnati in the Jets 26-10 win.

During his Friday press conference, head coach Rex Ryan said that he felt that Jerricho Cotchery, Santonio Holmes, Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie could all be candidates to replace Leonhard on punt return. Now without Leonhard, special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff is forced to make some adjustments and they may be more than just replacing the safety on special teams.

"Jerricho is probably the steadiest and [we] may get him involved at two deep with one of the other guys," Westhoff said, adding that cornerback Antonio Cromartie was poised to become a returner as well. Westhoff said that was a move in the works this week before the injury on Friday further changed things.

Since training camp, Cromartie has consistently been in the rotation on both kickoff and punt return duty and has excelled with his long stride and big frame letting him get up the field almost effortlessly. One player that doesn't seem to be in the mix right now is Kyle Wilson. The first round pick has fallen out of favor at cornerback and seems to be having a similar plummet from grace on special teams.

"To be honest, I was disappointed in Kyle. You've asked me all season about him and I've been his biggest proponent. His role on defense has diminished but I kept using him," Westhoff said. "My frustration level went over a little bit last week after that return after a safety. I felt that he should have broken two [punt returns] and I was a little disappointed, but kept giving him the opportunity."

Jets Insider Top Stories