This week in Jets practice, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski go by the names Greg McElroy and Hayden Smith.
The second-year McElroy, third on the depth chart at quarterback, and the rookie Smith, a rugby player transitioning to tight end and currently stowed away on the Jets’ practice squad, are playing the part of Brady and Gronkowski this week on the Jets’ scout team. It is a tall order, as Brady is considered one of the best quarterbacks of all-time and Gronkowski has turned into the prototypical pass-catching tight end of his generation.
Neither McElroy nor Smith have played in an NFL game.
“I feel like I’ve watched Tom play as long as I can remember. He’s one of my favorites to watch. He’s an amazing player. I’ve been trying to emulate his body language, his approach to the line, his cadence [and] how he directs MIKE (middle insider linebacker) points and things like that,” McElroy told Metro. “But he’s a fun guy to try and simulate. He’s incredibly difficult to simulate. He’s one of the best to play in the league.”
This is the first time that McElroy has simulated Brady, a task that had fallen to former Jet Kevin O’Connell, a former Patriots quarterback who had stints with the Jets the past three years. His familiarity with the Patriots system made it a natural fit. But now McElroy must give the first- and second-team defenses a reasonable facsimile of a seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
The challenge is equally steep for Smith. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski has rewritten the way tight ends are used in the NFL.
Fortunately for Smith, he admires Gronkowski and studies him already.
“I think he uses his body very well in receiving. He gets separation and then uses his size to his advantage. He’s obviously very good with his hands. He takes the ball very well over his shoulder which can be very difficult to do; it’s a great skill to have. From the run game, his footwork is really good. From my perspective, [he]’s a good player to watch,” Smith said.
“He’s obviously a class player. He’s well-rounded and does so many things well. Across the board, he truly is, there’s so much for me to learn and I have been just watching film on him and seeing that, trying to be that. It’s a good benchmark for me.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.