- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In the past, Rex Ryan has made fun of the Bill Belichick caginess when it comes to an injury report. The New York Jets' coach has said he doesn't really think holding back that information gives him a competitive advantage.
But this week has tested that policy. When first asked about whether cornerback Drew Coleman, with a hurt knee, and wide receiver Brad Smith (groin) were going to be available, Ryan was a little bit guarded.
"They are questionable and that's what I'm going to stay with," Ryan said. "Let them figure it out. Both of those guys could be game-time decisions."
Earlier in the week Ryan joked that he didn't think the New England Patriots would need to prepare for the Wildcat at all.
So why the change in tactic?
Belichick mentions Smith in the same category of players as cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and that's because of how versatile Smith is. If Ryan were to announce that Smith wasn't playing when the Jets head to Foxborough on Sunday for an AFC divisional game, there would be no need to prep for any Wildcat, Seminole or having to make the call between guarding Smith as a receiver or a back.
"[Smith] knows how to read blocks a lot better than just having a running back lined up in the backfield and try to run the same Wildcat offense," Holmes said. "He's dynamic, he's explosive, has breakaway speed, able to slip through tackles. That's a key part of our offense and getting him involved, and kind of mixing and matching because he can still throw the football because he played quarterback."
Ryan may not have wanted to streamline the Patriots' preparation coming into the third matchup between these two teams this season.
And that's just on the offense. Smith is an alternate on the Pro Bowl roster for what he's done as a returner on special teams.
"We're prepared to go without him but we'd love to have him," special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said.
Cromartie said he approached Westhoff and said he'd be there to return again this week.
"Having a veteran guy step into that role, we're not trying to go home," Cromartie said.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, Cromartie was able to return kickoffs once Smith became injured in the first half. Cromartie had a pivotal 49-yard return to give the Jets an advantage in the final drive of the game, which ultimately led to the game-winning field goal.
Ryan said that even if Smith were able to play on the offense, the Jets could opt to keep Cromartie in to return kicks.
"The way Cro looked, he's an explosive returner back there, and we could certainly do that," Ryan said.
Judging from what several players had to say, there's a general expectation that Smith will play, despite being limited in practice with the groin injury. Ryan said Smith and Coleman are both game-time decisions.
And, judging from the way Ryan said it, that's all anyone needs to know.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan is not giving away any injury news to the Patriots.