Smitty gets the start

With the Jets coming off their third straight loss, news of change has come from Florham Park, N.J. Earlier in the week, Rex Ryan announced that he would be taking a larger role in the Jets offense by increasing his participation in offensive meetings and on the practice field. Now, it appears he's going to send a message to his defense as well.

Early Wednesday morning, Jay Glazer, the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com, reported on Twitter that Jets safety Kerry Rhodes would be benched against the Carolina Panthers this weekend and replaced by Eric Smith.

Many fans have been critical of Rhodes' lack of aggressiveness and play-making this season. Through 10 games, Rhodes' stats are all zeros except for 54 tackles (48 solo/6 assisted). After his spotty performance against the Patriots last week it is not too surprising that Ryan would make this move. Throughout the game Rhodes showed hesitation, dipping his shoulder, for instance, instead of full out tackling Wes Welker in the second quarter. Rhodes seemed to show up just a few seconds late on every play, let Laurence Maroney run all over him and his lack of big plays the previous weeks may have finally showed Ryan that a change needed to be made.  We don't know for sure if this is the reason, but we'll hopefully know soon enough.

Not to worry though for Rhodes' replacement this week is Eric Smith, an exciting player out of Michigan State. Drafted in 2006, Smith has played a big role on special teams over the past four seasons. Last season, Smith was best known for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cardinals wideout Anquan Boldin, a devastating blow that left Larry Fitzgerald's sidekick sidelined for several weeks with multiple injuries, and cost Smith $5,000.

This spring at OTAs and mini camp, Smith caught Ryan's eye. After playing traditional safety under Eric Mangini, Smith was asked to take the role of a hybrid safety/linebacker, seeing much more movement around the field. After a disappointing performance to start mini camp and feeling he had lost his position to newly acquired Jim Leonhard, Smith came to the second mini camp ready to impress.

In the spirit of Channing Crowder, if the Jets were the OTA Super Bowl winners, then Smith was the MVP.  In three days Smith had five interceptions, leaving Ryan stating "Ed Reed ... that's what that reminds me of." Linebacker Bart Scott, whose locker is next to Smith's,  helped him with the new defense and noted Smith's performance, saying "He's making big plays. When you make big plays like that Rex will find a spot for you on the football field. It's testament to him, his work ethic and his play making ability."

This season, Smith earned the game ball in Week 3 against the Titans after recording his fourth career interception, six solo tackles and two passes defended. While playing primarily on special teams, he's recorded 30 tackles and one interception and blocked a punt against the Pats that turned into the Jets' first return TD of the season. For the most part, his statistics are not staggering by any stretch but he has one more pick than Rhodes and No. 25 has started at safety each and every week.

While I still believe that Rhodes is a talented player, I'm looking forward to seeing Smith back on the field with the defense this week. He is one player that gives his full effort on the field. His style of play gives you the feeling he's a "Rex Ryan kinda guy." He's shown some nice one-on-one pass rushing skills, is aggressive and makes plays. I think we could expect to see him up his game this weekend because no guy likes to see their name go down on the depth chart.

It's obvious that motivation and believing in your players' talent alone does not guarantee that they will motivate themselves. Ryan knows what his players are capable of and has given this defense every opportunity to showcase its talent. If this "benching" is truly due to lack of performance, we can only hope that it will be enough to wake up Rhodes and have him realize that no one gets to the Pro Bowl by sitting on the bench, even if you have 193,919 Twitter followers.