- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Hayden Smith arrived a year ago, a former international rugby star with no experience in organized football. He never wore a helmet, never put on shoulder pads, never ran a pass route. The most basic aspects of football -- i.e. mastering the quarterback cadence -- were a challenge.
"If you've never played football, it's hard to sit on the line," Smith recalled of his not-so-long-ago neophyte days. "You have to know what the cadence is and you don't want to jump and be edgy."
Smith has come a long way in a relatively short time. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Australian was one of the bright spots during OTAs, impressing with his dramatic improvement. Instead of worrying about where to line up and trying to remember his assignment on each play, Smith actually made plays, including a couple of acrobatic receptions.
"Coming in the second time around, not having to worry about the game of football itself, it takes a lot of the thinking out of it," he said. "That was always going to be the challenge early on, getting comfortable with the sport. Now I feel like I'm at the stage where I can just concentrate on execution rather than the bigger things."
Smith, 28, spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad, seeing some playing time late in the season. He played a total of 17 snaps on offense, plus 15 snaps on special teams. Basically, it was a redshirt year, but now he's ready to make a name for himself.
"I feel like I'm at the stage where I can contribute," he said. "My primary goal is to help the Jets win football games."
He's already mastered the veteran cliches.
But seriously, he should get a good look, considering the downtrodden state of the tight end position. Jeff Cumberland and Konrad Reuland are the only experienced tight ends on the roster, so we're not talking about Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez here. Maybe, just maybe, "Aussie" -- his nickname -- can make a move up the depth chart. He has gone from Down Under to under the radar. Who knows what's next?