In little league sports, there is always a kid on the team who does all the right things. He shows up to every practice. He has a good attitude. He works hard at practice. He is always in the right place on the field during a given play. This kid always ends up getting a lot more playing time than his natural ability would suggest.
For a while, I have wondered whether this might be the case for the way the Jets handle Eric Smith. The coaches rave about his work ethic and smarts. Now as a reward for this, he is starting and getting a ton of playing time over Brodney Pool, who looked like a playmaker and a complete safety down the stretch last season. In kids sports, the difference in athletic ability is usually not great. In the NFL, it can be pronounced.
The problem is Smith's top notch intangibles can only cover so much for his slowness. This is an age of athletic tight ends in the NFL. He has looked a step slow in coverage against good backs and tight ends like Jason Witten, Ray Rice, and Ed Dickson. Smith was a couple of more accurate passes from Joe Flacco to Dickson and Torrey Smith from having a really brutal night in coverage.
Smith has a spot on the team. He is a good situational guy, dropping into the box as a linebacker in nickel packages. He is better in coverage than the average linebacker. He is also a good safety against teams that rely on the run game. I just wonder whether the coaching staff might be letting its personal affection in the way of putting the best lineup on the field. Pool is also really good against the run and a big upgrade in coverage.