Ayear ago, Hayden Smith barely knew how to buckle his chinstrap. The Jets tightend was playing football for the first time in his life. A year later, Smithbelieves he’s ready to actually contribute.
“Therewas a lot thrown on my plate,” Smith, 28, said last week of his rookie year. “Icame from a situation where I knew football from an armchair perspective andnothing more than that and to come straight into the NFL there is a lot thatgets put on your plate very quickly. It was overwhelming at times. You had totry to break down the most important bits and relate that and becomecomfortable with that. Most of that really has sunk in now. I’m in a much morecomfortable spot.”
Smith,who is from Australia, played rugby in England but had never played football atany level before joining the Jets last year. He saw action in five games in2012, mostly on special teams, and had one catch.
Ashe enters his second season, Smith said he is able to focus on the playbook andnot figuring out the rules of football.
“It’snot even close,” Smith said. “The main thing is not having to learn about thegame of football and actually being able to concentrate on learning theoffense. It takes a lot off your plate. It definitely allows things to be a lotslower and come to you a lot quicker.”
TheJets are extremely thin at tight end, creating a chance for Smith. Afterletting Dustin Keller go to the Dolphins, the Jets have Jeff Cumberland, KonradReuland and Smith as the guys with the most experience at the position.
Smithrecognizes he has a better chance to play this year, but is not looking at itlike that.
“I’vegot to approach it the same way I did last year and that was just to get betterevery day,” he said. “I need to continue to get better than I am today tomorrowand give myself the best chance really to compete for a position. There’sobviously opportunity there. It’s just a matter of what you do with thatopportunity.”
TheJets fired offensive coordinator Tony Sparano after the season, replacing himwith Marty Mornhinweg, giving Smith his second NFL offense to learn.Mornhinweg’s West Coast system has a big role for tight ends, something thathas Smith excited.
“I’vereally enjoyed it,” Smith said of learning the new system. “Whether it’s mebeing more comfortable with football in general or Marty’s offense, I’ve foundit a light year’s difference to my experience last year. I’m thoroughlyenjoying it. I really enjoy the offense itself as do all the guys.”