Jets tight end Hayden Smith found himself in a different kind of scrumfollowing the first day of Jets rookie camp, surrounded by a dozen members of the media.
Smith signed a reported multi-year deal with the Jets in early April without having ever played football. The Australian-born Smith went to college in the United States and played rugby, eventually representing America on the international stage with the national team. Friday brought the intriguing athlete his first up-close glimpse of the NFL.
Smith, signed purely on potential following a workout with the Jets, stands at 6-foot-7 and tips the scales at 260 pounds.
“There’s a huge difference between being a fan and watching the game and then being there -- learning the system, all the reads, the defensive looks. All the breadth and depth of knowledge is impressive,” Smith told Metro.
“Today was the first time I’ve put on a helmet -- quite interesting.”
Rugby, while a physically challenging game, is of course a different sport than football. There are no shoulder pads and helmets in rugby and the concept of the line of scrimmage is vastly different. The NFL is about short bursts of energy and practice resembles that, nothing like Smith’s rugby practice which was much more free-flowing.
It is difficult enough for a rookie to get acclimated to the speed of play and tempo of practice in the NFL, but Smith isn’t just going from college to the professional ranks. He’s transitioning from one sport to another. In fact, Smith said that there is no playbook in rugby.
“There’s much more of an emphasis on the technique. If you don’t use your technique it makes it very difficult. In rugby you kind of get away with just throwing yourself in. Football can be the same, but there is more of an emphasis in technique,” Smith said. “Practice is more structured; rugby is free-flowing.”
Smith had his head on a pivot throughout practice as players buzzed around him, running to different stations for drills and moving as units. In drills, including 7-on-7 and then full 11-on-11 to end practice, Smith carefully observed on the reps he sat out, taking mental notes of what the players around him were doing. He earned praise for one jumping catch he had, but there were also lots of “learning moments” as well.
New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano repeatedly yelled at Smith “Aussie! Finish him! Finish him off!” during blocking drills.
“Both sports you have ‘to finish,’ but it means different things in different sports,” Smith said.
“It’s a key term we use here and it’s something the coaches have focused on. Especially with run blocking -- to finish the block.”
Then of course, there was that helmet. Indentations were still on his forehead from the helmet’s padding as Smith stood in the locker room, drinking water outside his locker. Even as he learns a new sport, at least Friday taught Smith that wearing a helmet wasn’t too bad.
“It was quite comfortable, interesting enough,” Smith said. “You’d think it’d be difficult, but once you put it on, [it’s] not at all uncomfortable.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer. He is at Jets rookie mini-camp all weekend tweeting news and photos.