By Tim Graham
When Rex Ryan left the Baltimore Ravens to become head coach of the New York Jets in 2009 and Mike Pettine came along as defensive coordinator, a significant part of their master plan was to sign former Raven defenders who could communicate the system to their new teammates.
The top two targets were linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard, who speak the same language Ryan and Pettine do. Scott and Leonhard made the on-field calls and explained the adjustments.
The Jets' defense thrived right away.
A similar transition could be in the works for the Buffalo Bills. A few weeks after hiring Pettine to be their defensive coordinator, the Bills today released linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson.
Those roster spots could be filled by Jets to effectively translate Pettine's system for the holdover Bills. The Jets reportedly will release Scott and also could cut safety Eric Smith to create salary-cap space.
Another Jets safety, LaRon Landry, is an unrestricted free agent. So is Jim Leonhard, who most recently played for the Denver Broncos and made a free-agent visit to the Bills last year.
"One of the hardest things when you get in a new system is to first to learn the system, but the second part is the language and the communication," Scott said shortly after signing with the Jets in 2009.
"I think it helps because they can listen to us make the checks and then they can start to get the gist of it and be able to make the checks themselves. That allows us to practice faster, which allows us to get a faster chemistry, which allows us to take the product on the field and make it as best we can before the start of the season."
The Jets went to the AFC Championship Game in each of the first two seasons under Ryan. They ranked first in total defense in 2009 and sixth in 2010.
Ryan and Pettine also added former Ravens defensive end Marques Douglas and defensive tackle Howard Green in lesser roles.
"They've all done a tremendous job of spreading that knowledge and getting those guys to understand the system, the subtleties and nuances of it," Pettine said during his first Jets season.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick also commented about the impact Scott and Leonhard made in helping the Jets transition from Eric Mangini's defense to Ryan's.
"A lot of times it's important for the player to understand how and why a certain defense or certain adjustments apply," Belichick said in September 2009. "You have it to solve a certain problem, and if you don't get that problem, it isn't really that good of an adjustment. But against a particular thing it's what you want to do. So not just understanding what the calls are or what the adjustments are, but when to apply, when to use them, when you want to use them, when you don't want to use them, that kind of thing.
"Experience like that is valuable, and all that happens out on the field. There's only so much you can call from the sideline when you have players out there that can run, with [Bart] Scott there at the front seven level and [Jim] Leonhard in the secondary. I'm sure those guys help that process."
tagged2013 free agency | Bill Belichick | Eric Smith | George Wilson | Jim Leonhard | LaRon Landry | Nick Barnett | Rex Ryan