Unlike our other subjects in our "introduction" series, Hayden Smith has been on the New York Jets for a year now. Last season, he was active for nine games and had one catch, against the San Diego Chargers. Mr. Smith was born in Australia and came from a rugby background, where he played for the Saracens, a British rugby team. After three years of the sport, Mr. Smith decided to take up football, where he quickly impressed scouts with his impressive physical measurables. Smith is 6'6", 265lbs, and can run a 4.75 40-yard dash. He has extremely similar measurables to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Before Mr. Smith signed with the Jets, he was coached by Tim Brewster, the same coach that prepared Antonio Gates for the NFL. Brewster had this to say about the ex-rugger:
I was really amazed at a couple of things. First, his ability to assimilate all the information I was throwing at him. He gets it. Football makes sense to the kid. Second, his work ethic off the charts. He's a way above average athlete for the position. I think the kid has an outstanding future in the National Football League.
Consider the fact that Mr. Smith has no experience playing football, the fact that he was able to crack the active roster is all the more impressive and speaks to how quickly he has picked up the sport. I had the chance to speak to Mr. Smith, and here is what he had to say:
I began by asking Hayden about his transition from rugby to football. He said that the easiest thing for him to pick up was what to do when you have the ball in your hand, while the hardest transition was learning how to block, a crucial role for a tight end. Blocking is "very foreign to any other sport," Hayden explained. Despite that, Hayden's goal last season was simply to get better every day, to make the active roster, and to contribute to the team. As for this season, Hayden talked about General Manager John Idzik's mantra of competition. With Dustin Keller likely gone, the team wants Hayden to compete for the starting role. It's clear that the position isn't simply being given to Jeff Cumberland by virtue of his salary, and that Hayden will have a chance to compete to be the starting tight end for the Jets.
I spoke to Hayden about former General Manager Mike Tannenbaum's recent comments that Smith was "uncoverable" in practice, and that he gave Rex Ryan fits trying to cover him. Hayden laughed off the "high praise," but did make it clear that he improved significantly over the course of the year. He noted that he spent most of the year on the scout team, helping the first team prepare for upcoming games. Although he predominantly played tight end, he also would fill in occasionally at defensive end at the end of practice if they needed someone.
Finally, I asked Hayden about his first catch, a throwback screen against the San Diego Chargers. Hayden gained sixteen yards, converting a third-and-nine behind the blocking of D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Hayden said that at the time, his only thought was to "protect the ball. I wanted to make sure it wasn't going anywhere." He explained that it was the high moment of the season for him personally, and he was happy to share the moment on the sideline with his teammates who were thrilled for him.
Hayden has two more years remaining on his contract and figures to play a big role on the team without Keller, even more so if the team is unable to sign a free agent tight end to fill the starting job. I've said numerous times how enamored I am with him and that I'm excited about his potential. Here's to hoping Hayden Smith competes his way into the starting role.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!