Jets’ Leonhard has broken leg, likely out for year

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - The New York Jets might 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 team declined to speculate on Leonhard’s playing status until after the surgery, but it appears likely to be a season-ending injury.

“I just think we were all crushed,” 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 did not 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) play the Patriots (9-2) at New England on Monday night in a meeting for first place in the AFC East.

“That was a huge blow to us,” a somber coach Rex Ryan said. “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, the Jets‘ last full session before their game in Foxborough, Mass.

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

Turner and other Jets said there was nothing extraordinary about the play to where they thought Leonhard was seriously hurt at first.

“It wasn’t the hardest collision,” Turner said.

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

Eric Smith will replace Leonhard as the starting safety opposite Brodney Pool, and 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 is third on the team with 66 tackles and 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.”

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.”

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