Hayden Smith is not a name familiar to most New York Jets fans. But if the Aussie native has his way, that will change by the end of the 2013 season. Smith is one of many tight ends vying for the open roster spot left behind by Dustin Keller, who departed the New York area for the sandy beaches of Miami, Florida.
Smith took a peculiar path to the NFL. Raised in Australia, Smith was awarded a scholarship to study abroad that eventually saw him enrolled at Metro State College in Denver. While at Metro, Smith excelled in collegiate rugby; establishing himself as an All-American in 2008. Following college, Smith was a professional rugby player in England and saw action in the Heineken Cup. He eventually decided to pursue a career in football following tryouts with multiple NFL teams.
"It was quite weird," he said of the transition. "I came in last year, really having only watched football from a spectator's perspective. It was just information overload at times and it took a lot of effort really just trying to break it up and slowly learn things as we progressed."
Smith was signed to a contract in 2012 but so no in-game action. He spent much of the year building his football acumen and learning the finer aspects of the game. Still, he credits his first year with alleviating a lot of pressure in learning how to play and is now using his sophomore year as a platform to elevate himself into the first team offense.
"The good thing about the second year is I no longer have to learn all those big schematic things," said Smith. "I can relate some things to things I learned last year, but once again obviously a new offense. The whole process of learning it is a lot easier the second time around."
Describing himself as a sponge, Smith states that he studies tape from many tight ends league wide. He doesn't try to emulate any one specific player but tries to bring all of their different skills into one hybrid.
"You're really just trying to take in the little nuances that each player's doing in their positions," stated the Australian. "Jason Witten is obviously a tremendous player, very good fundamentally with his techniques and everything like that. I watched Dustin a lot last year and he was great particularly in the passing game with his techniques and the way he set up defenders."
Smith has a lot of characteristics that make him viable to start at tight end. His hulking figures along with sneaky speed make him a problematic matchup for defensive linebackers. Being a rugby athlete, Smith has an inherent ability to secure the ball and keep it from ending up in opposing hands. Rugby has also given Smith a great ability to block, giving him the necessary upper body strength to keep opposing players at bay and keep his quarterback from ending up down on the ground. With training camp position battles on the horizon, it seems Smith is focused on making himself a more complete player, and that his hard work will make all the details fall into place.