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Rugby star still trying to make impact on Jets

There isn’t a bigger project in the NFL than trying to convert an athlete who has never played football at any level.

There isn’t a bigger project in the NFL than trying to convert an athlete who has never played football at any level, but former rugby player Hayden Smith is making progress in his bid to become an NFL tight end.

Smith is an intriguing prospect because he moves faster and with more agility than most 6-foot-6, 255-pound football players. He has good hips and is a hard worker, but there’s still that pesky fact that he has never played organized football at any level. The Jets signed him earlier this offseason based on the skill set that made him a star on the United States national rugby team, but the Australian-born Smith is beyond raw in his understanding of the game.

All seems to be changing as yesterday’s start to minicamp saw an athlete fast becoming an NFL player.

“It’s slowly starting to pick things up. The more you know what you’re doing the more you’re able to do,” Smith told Metro New York. “The next phase is the technique, and knowing what to do and how to do it. It’s a night and day difference from when I first walked in here, but I still need to take it along and further the process.”

Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano spent a fair amount of time with Smith and the tight ends working on their blocking. It is a skill that Smith struggled with during rookie minicamp, but he earned praise several times on Tuesday from Sparano and tight ends coach Mike Devlin. He’s using his leverage much better and his technique, which was sloppy to say the least a month ago, is now gradually improving. He also finished plays, something he wasn’t doing this time a month ago.

But while he’s improving, Smith acknowledges that he’s mentally further along than physically and that can be frustrating.

“I’m probably further with the playbook right now. The way the CBA is structured so that there isn’t a whole lot of time for me to work on technique, but here there is now more time for study,” Smith said.

“So right now, I’m doing better with the mental side which will translate I think to the physical side. And I’m working on finishing plays. That’s something you can’t really teach; it comes from desire and that is easy for me.”

Smith will miss the “Jets West” camp hosted by Mark Sanchez in California in a few weeks to be in the wedding party for a friend getting married in South Africa. Missing the informal workouts is something that is a disappointment for him as he tries to learn the offense. After the wedding, he will then fly to Australia to visit family before returning for the start of training camp. But after minicamp concludes on Thursday, Smith will stay locally and continue to come to the facility to review tape and work out with his teammates, including working on technique.

Right now though, things are starting to make sense for Smith just a little bit more.

“All that background noise is diminishing. I’m understanding things more,” Smith said.

Gang Green notes

» DaMarcus Ganaway practiced today after injuring his hip during OTAs last week. The hip “swelled up” and he went through some extra warming up before taking the field.

“Felt great today,” Ganaway said.

» Santonio Holmes, LaRon Landry and Stephen Hill were among the noticeable players held out of drills on Tuesday. All three players did conditioning work including sprints.

Holmes participated in roughly 20 snaps last week during the Thursday OTA session following his return from Germany where he visited American soldiers. Ryan termed it as “some tightness in a hamstring.”

Hill was held out with hamstring tightness which caused him to miss the team’s final OTA session last Thursday. The rookie second round pick said it is “day-by-day.” but just tightness.

“They just want to make sure that I’m 100 percent healthy and not 85 [percent],” Hill said. “Just a little ‘iffy’ right now. I just don’t want to injure it anymore.”

» The hamstring injury bug also affected second year running back Bilal Powell, who sat out practice.

» Chaz Schilens had an up and down day. He had a great touchdown catch in the back of the end zone from Sanchez in 11-on-11 drills, but also had two bad drops.



Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer. He is live tweeting from Jets minicamp in Florham Park all week.

 
 
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