FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Barely three years ago, tackle Jason Smith was a hot property, entering the NFL as the No. 2 overall pick in the draft behind Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. But he arrived Wednesday at Jets camp wearing the "bust" label following a trade that sent Wayne Hunter to the Rams.
Jets coach Rex Ryan characterized it as the kind of trade that benefits both teams because the players involved need a "fresh start" after losing starting jobs. Given Smith's draft status, he has fallen much farther than Hunter, but he is attempting to take a positive approach.
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"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Smith said. "One person may not see the beauty; it's like an antique. But to somebody else, that's like a jewel. I kind of look at it like that."
A less romantic view would be that it's a move of expediency for both teams. Hunter gave up 11 sacks last season and seemed to regress during the preseason. Smith was available, but he's obviously a stopgap move because the Jets are highly unlikely to pick up his $12 million option next season.
For now, Ryan said the 26-year-old Smith will fill the backup tackle and jumbo tight end role assigned to Hunter after he was demoted in favor of Austin Howard. The coach is hoping Smith can play about 10 snaps in the final exhibition Thursday night in Philadelphia, but that's asking a lot after one day to start learning the playbook.
"It's been a crash course in one day," Smith said. "There's a lot going on, a lot of calls like every other offense. I'm working diligently to learn it. It's one of those things where I have to re-apply everything I learned over the last four years and make sure I'm productive."
During his three-year Rams career, Smith played only 29 games while suffering from concussions. Asked to describe the source of his problems with the Rams, Smith said, "I learned that no man can control injury. That being said, it really can sum up my whole career."
When he was drafted by the Rams, Smith had the misfortune of stepping into the oversized shoes of Hall of Fame tackle Orlando Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who likely is headed to the Hall of Fame. Smith naturally resisted the inevitable comparison, and Ryan called it unfair to him.
In that sense, the trade was low-risk for the Jets, who received a tackle five years younger and more athletic than Hunter in Ryan's estimation. Smith welcomed the change, saying, "When I first got the phone call about it, I was like, 'Wow.' I thought I was battling for a starting job. Like I said, beauty's in the eye of the beholder. To somebody, I was beautiful."