FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Rex Ryan tried his best to sound optimistic, but the look in his eyes told a different story. There was much more beneath the surface of his words, but it would take hours before the severity of the situation was revealed.
The Jets confirmed late Friday afternoon that safety Jim Leonhard fractured his right tibia in practice. That announcement came three hours after Ryan ruled him out for Monday night's game against the Patriots because of a "severe" shin injury.
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Leonhard had surgery at Morristown Memorial Hospital on Friday night, and his status for the rest of the season remains unclear. Multiple reports indicated he will miss the rest of the season, but the Jets said they will wait until after surgery to evaluate his status. They also said the fractured bone did not break the skin and that his fibula, ankle and knee are OK.
Speaking in general terms and not specifically about Leonhard's injury, Dr. Michael Kaplan, an orthopedic surgeon from Middlebury, Conn., said: "A tibia fracture requiring a plate or rod needs four to five months minimum for healing. Depending on the nature of the break and location, he may be suitable for return [next season].''
A freak in-practice collision between Leonhard - the quarterback of the defense and the primary punt returner - and wide receiver Patrick Turner quickly tempered the feel-good mood within the walls of the Jets' training facility.
"I don't think people realize what a vital part of our room Jim Leonhard is, so that is what makes it more difficult," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said of the 5-8, 188-pound safety, who was carted off the field. "He's not just a great football player, he's a great person . . . On the field, he was a big part of helping guys get lined up and he was usually a guy that was in the right place at the right time doing his job. So that's something that we're really going to miss."
Ryan offered few details about Leonhard's injury during his early-afternoon news conference but assumed he had broken a bone in his leg. "Emotionally, it was a letdown," he said. "I thought we were having our best practice of the year until that point. Obviously, it was a huge blow to our team, but this a tough group and we've carried ourselves this far because of our mental toughness."
Several players, including Turner, said they didn't realize Leonhard was hurt that severely. Both players fell and Leonhard grabbed his right shin in obvious pain. He remained on the ground until the training staff ran over to him. "It was two guys going for the ball and running into each other," said Turner, who was running a vertical route on the play. "It wasn't the hardest collision. I believe he went up for the ball, I think. I can't remember, it happened so fast."
Eric Smith and Brodney Pool likely will start at the safety spots against the Patriots, but safety James Ihedigbo and cornerback Dwight Lowery are expected to shoulder the bulk of Leonhard's responsibilities. Leonhard has 61 combined tackles and one interception this season.
"He's like a brother," Ihedigbo said. "He's a close teammate, and when you're with someone who knows so much and is so knowledgeable of the game, there is definitely an emotional aspect to it. It's a sad thing, but the truth is it's a part of the game. There's a 100-percent injury rate in the game that we play. We know that getting involved in it and we have to step up and win this game for him and for each other."
With Bob Glauber