Hard-Hitting LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell Short-Term Solutions for New York Jets

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IAugust 15, 2012

Not exactly where many hoped LaRon Landry would be spending training camp.
Not exactly where many hoped LaRon Landry would be spending training camp.Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE

Safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell each signed a one-year deal with the Jets this offseason, providing the Jets with answers on the back end for the 2012 season.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski signed a six-year extension with the Patriots, though, providing the Jets a 6'6", 265-pound question mark for the next eight seasons. 

But more importantly, the trend of tight ends like Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez isn't going anywhere for a long time. That's why the Jets were wise to select safeties Josh Bush and Antonio Allen in the sixth and seventh rounds of the draft, respectively. Unless the Jets plan to add more youth at safety in the future, they'll be counting on cultivating the talents of Bush and Allen into future starters for their defense.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's start with how they will defend the tight ends this year.

It's certainly possible when you have a safety like Tyvon Branch of the Raiders, who single-handedly erased Gronkowski for much of their Week 4 meeting last year.

But there are ways to scheme around those deficiencies, to defend the tight ends more easily. To get a better picture, let's go picture-by-picture and get a look at how the Patriots did the very same thing by shutting down Chargers tight end Antonio Gates in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

Gates has been a favorite target for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, especially on third down. So with this situation, a blind man could have seen what was coming.

The Patriots put both linebacker Rob Ninkovich and safety Patrick Chung on Gates close to the line, with one sole purpose: to keep him from getting the ball. How were they going to do that? Disrupt his timing and not let him get an inch of breathing room

Ninkovich is rushing the passer here, but he makes sure to at least get a chip on Gates at the line of scrimmage to get him off to a bumpy start in his route.

Ninkovich engages the left tackle, Marcus McNeill, and passes Gates off to Chung. Then, it's up to Chung, lined up on Gates' inside shoulder, to carry the coverage across the field. 

Ninkovich may have taken it easy on Gates off the line, but Chung is unforgiving in his coverage, clinging to the tight end like Saran wrap to...well, itself. That stuff is so annoying. And on this play, Chung was annoying to Gates.

All this disrupted the timing of Gates' route and made it impossible for him to get open.

With Landry weighing in at a beefy 220 pounds, he could double as a linebacker to chip Gronkowski, or other tight ends like him at the line.

"We're just not going to let guys run down the field," Bell said during a break at the New York Jets' training camp, according to ESPN. "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."

If that's the strategy the Jets want to employ, they could use a look at how New England slowed down Gates. And they know exactly why, too.

"The big thing in this league is timing," Bell said. "If [Gronkowski] 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."

Landry and Bell have proven to be two of the tougher safeties in the league. (Though "tough" with Landry may be a misnomer, considering all the injuries he's sustained in his career.) But what happens when those two safeties are no longer the ones responsible for "com[ing] after them"?

The Jets will then turn to the aforementioned draft picks, Bush and Allen.

Rex Ryan knows that each has flaws in his game but is confident that both can improve in the areas where they need to.

"[Bush is] more of the true high-safety-type guy where Allen was more of the low safety," said Ryan according to the Jets' official website. "But what we're trying to do is combine both of them. One guy has got to be more physical and come to the party a little bit, with Bush. And the other one is having to learn how to play more of a deep patrol as well." 

The early signs have been positive for Allen, who was regarded by ESPN's Rich Cimini as the Jets' most impressive-looking draft pick over a two-day span in early August. 

Two days in early August won't get it done during a 16-week NFL season, but Allen has been spotted making plays, including a pair of interceptions in a late-July practice and a sack in a practice on Tuesday. Plays like that could help him earn more playing time this season than would be expected of a seventh-round pick. Secondary coach Dennis Thurman even said Allen is on his way to earning reps with the first-team defense, via the team's official website.

And just like Landry and Bell, Allen loves to put a lick on someone coming across the middle of the field.

"I wasn't really scared [on the first day in full pads] because I love to hit all the time," said Allen, per the Jets' official website. "On special-teams drills, I think that set me off. As soon as I got in, I got a big hit, and from there it just proceeded to progress."

Bush, meanwhile, has been creating a role for himself in the secondary. He has been studying the techniques and tendencies of Jets safety Eric Smith. In an ironic twist of events, Smith suffered an injury in the preseason opener, thus opening up a spot for Smith to potentially earn some first-team reps.

That is, if Landry and Bell don't have something to say about it.

But even if they do, they won't have much say for much longer if the younger safeties are able to grow into starting roles in the near future.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates.