FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets and the Rams thought that by swapping tackles, each could salvage an underperforming player and improve in pass protection. After putting tackle Jason Smith through a crash course on the playbook and evaluating his performance in the preseason finale, the Jets proclaimed themselves satisfied with the deal.
The Jets traded Wayne Hunter to St. Louis on Monday for Smith and boiled down a month of training camp into one day for him. Smith passed his physical Tuesday, practiced Wednesday and then started at left tackle in Thursday night’s 28-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Coach Rex Ryan had said he would use Smith on 10 snaps, but he left him in for 33.
Smith was the first player Ryan mentioned when he discussed Thursday’s game. He said Smith and the newly named starting right tackle, Austin Howard, were impressive.
“It’s certainly not for the P.R. attention,” Ryan said, joking. “Jason, that’s kind of unique, you only had a guy for one or two meetings, you put him in there with the starting group and he plays the entire half. And he did a tremendous job.”
Smith will assume Hunter’s role as the swing tackle off the bench, also playing blocking tight end in the jumbo package.
Smith was regarded as Orlando Pace’s heir apparent at left tackle when the Rams selected him with the No. 2 pick in 2009. He struggled and was moved to right tackle after the Rams drafted Rodger Saffold in 2010. Smith was limited to 29 games in three seasons because of concussions.
The lofty expectations that burdened Smith are gone now, and he has no illusions of becoming the next, well, anyone.
“Right now, I’m just a nobody,” Smith said. “And I like it that way. It allows me to crawl, scratch, dig and have fun doing it, as opposed to being the guy.”
A few lockers over from Smith, Aaron Maybin crooned to a Motown tune, snapping his fingers and dancing while wearing a towel around his waist.
Maybin knows the feeling.
“They kind of just took the pressure off of my shoulders,” said Maybin, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2009, nine picks after Smith, and was cut twice before the Jets turned him from a bust into a bargain.
Ryan is treating Smith the way he did Maybin.
“He wanted to take all the pressure from the media and from the fans, and just let me get back to having fun,” Maybin said of Ryan, adding, “That was exactly what I needed.”
This year’s Jets are featuring new faces and implementing some rules. Smith may have had only one day to learn the playbook, but he quickly exercised the team’s vow of silence when it came to questions about the newly designed option-read offense.
“You got to play like a Jet, you got to dress like a Jet, you got to think like a Jet, so go ask Coach that question,” Smith said, sounding as if he had been with the Jets since Day 1.