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“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.”

The hard-hitting Smith 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.

“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.”

Leonhard also returns punts, ranking among the NFL leaders with an 11.3-yard average. Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said that duty 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 career.

Leonhard broke his right thumb in a game a year ago, but missed no time while playing with a cast. He’s a personal favorite of Ryan, who brought him with him 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.”