"He really did quarterback the back end," noted Pettine. "He was a big part of helping guys get lined up and he was usually a guy that was in the right place and the right time doing his job. That's something that we are really going to miss."
Leonhard ranked eighth in the league as a punt returner with an 11.3 return average, also providing the special teams a boost in their coverage units. Special teams coach Mike Westoff is confident that other veterans will step up as potential weapons in the return game. Both wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Cornerback Antonio Cromartie have offered their return services but Leonhard was serviceable as a returner and rarely muffed an effort.
"We are going to look at all of that," Westhoff admitted. "And see what is the best and put together a package that best suits us. Jerricho is probably the steadiest and we may get him involved at two-deep with one of the other guys. It was a move that I was prepared to make anyway with Cromartie and give him that opportunity."
New York has appointed Eric Smith as Leonard's replacement with Smith assigned to make defensive play calls, alongside safety Brodney Pool. Special teams extraordinaire, James Ihedigbo, will likely see his role increase at the safety position as he has flourished rushing the quarterback on the edges. Third year cornerback Dwight Lowery provides another viable option in the secondary, as he has fully recovered from a concussion he sustained Week 10 against Cleveland. The Jets are equipped to sustain the losses in their secondary, but the leadership and team camaraderie that Leonhard promoted will be sorely missed.
"I think a lot of it starts with off the field, Pettine said. "He's not just a great football player; he's a great person. I think his personality is just tremendous, he's a very funny guy, good-natured. I think he kept the room very light, was very quick to point things out, very quick-witted. That's a big part of it, to me, is more the personal part of it, the off-the-field stuff."