CORTLAND – Eric Smith has taken them under his wing, sharing his knowledge of Rex Ryan’s defense with every passing practice.
And now that the veteran safety is sidelined with a sprained MCL, rookies Antonio Allen and Josh Bush are ready to take the baton.
“It’s a tough situation because as a rookie,” Allen said of getting more playing time due to Smith’s injury. “It’s your first year, coming into this whole system. But now you’re actually on the field playing, so you just need to know your assignment and step up.
“One man down, next man go in.”
Though he primarily played near the line of scrimmage in college, the 6-1, 210-pound Allen expressed confidence in his skill. “It’s no different than being at South Carolina,” he said matter-of-factly.
Rex Ryan, however, said the goal of the coaching staff is to “combine” both Allen – a guy who “learning how to play more of a deep patrol’ – and Bush – “a true high-safety-type” who is more physical.
Allen said the main critique he’s received so far in camp is keeping his eyes trained on his intended receiver. “Don’t peak at the quarterback, just focus on your man all the way downfield til the ball is thrown and break,” he said.
Whenever he and Bush have questions, their first instinct is to go directly to Smith. The veteran safety is “always patient and never out of position,” said Bush (5-11, 205).
“He’s a smart safety that knows everything,” added Allen. “Sometimes when I know I’ve made a mistake, I’ll run up to Eric and say, ‘Hey, did you see me on this play? What do I need to work on?”
And if Smith happens to catch one of the rookies making a mistake on the field, he’ll quickly go over to them and correct it.
“He gets up on us when we make mistakes,” said Allen. “But him being a veteran, he has to do that because he doesn’t want to see us mess up. He wants to see us succeed and progress and do what we need to do.
“I think he only has one more year,” the rookie added of Smith, who signed a three-year extension in 2011. “But he’s trying to get us right. I know that for a fact.”
Allen said he expects Smith to be back fairly soon, but “with him down right now, a lot of guys need to step up.”