Former rugby player adjusting to NFL
Every rookie who enters the NFL has some level of adjustment to make. Learning the plays, earning a paycheck and getting used to the speed of the game are all things you hear a lot about.
Jets rookie tight end Hayden Smith needs to get used to wearing a helmet.
Smith, who is from Australia and spent the past four years playing rugby in England, had never worn a helmet or participated in a football practice until Friday.
"It was quite good actually," Smith said of wearing his headgear. "I had better vision than I expected, and sure enough, soon enough you just forget that you're wearing it. It's something you definitely make an adjustment to quickly. That's probably just because I'm so concerned with what I have to do. My mind is going a million miles an hour. It was good fun to put the helmet on and have a bit of a runaround."
Not many rookies describe practice as a "bit of a runaround," either.
The Jets signed the 27-year-old Smith to a three-year contract in April, hoping he can develop into a contributor for them. At the moment, he's an early work in progress. Smith showed some pass-catching ability Friday but received some major instruction in route running from offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who referred to him as "Aussie."
"I understand that there is a process," Smith said. "I know the situation I'm in. However, I wouldn't be a competitor and I wouldn't be a professional athlete in rugby or be able to get where I was if I wasn't pushing to do well. My goal obviously is to make the team."
Smith said it has always been a dream of his to play football. He grew up in Australia but moved to the United States to attend college and play basketball at Metropolitan State in Denver. Once he graduated, he took up rugby and wound up on the US national team. He then went to England to play for Saracens, a top-level team.
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Late last year, he decided he wanted to try to play football. He trained with former University of Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and got tryouts with the Jets and Saints.
"I would not bet against this young man," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Jets tight ends coach Mike Devlin and assistant tight ends coach Lance Taylor are working with Smith to help him with the playbook, which Smith said was "overwhelming" at first.
Ryan said he has been impressed with how hard Smith is working.
"I don't think we can say that he'll have an impact immediately, but I'll say this: He's working like he's going to," Ryan said. "This guy is studying like crazy. I see him in the facility and he's out there by himself, running routes, going through assignments. This guy wants it. He's been successful in other areas. Why not? He looked decent out there."