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Smith will need time adapting to football

Hayden Smith of Saracens claims the line out

Hayden Smith of Saracens claims the line out ball during the Aviva Premiership match between Saracens and Leicester Tigers. (Feb. 19, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Hayden Smith came hurtling toward the ball, intent on using every inch of his long arms to deflect Travis Baltz's punt.

Hands outstretched, he made his move. But the Australian rugby player missed the football and crashed into the kicker instead.

"That was play-on in rugby," Smith, a projected tight end, said with a laugh after the first day of Jets rookie minicamp Friday. "I went straight over to Baltz and apologized after training. And he understands . . . He knows I'm coming from a little bit of a different situation."

For Smith, a 6-6, 255-pound athlete accustomed to the brute force of rugby, adapting to the nuances of football -- and its rules -- will take time. The learning curve is steep, especially for a player who had never worn a helmet before Friday.

Digesting the playbook has been an overwhelming task, he admitted. But despite his unfamiliarity, his raw talent, build and focus have impressed the coaching staff.

"I don't think we can say he's going to have an impact immediately," coach Rex Ryan said. "But I'll say this: He's working like he's going to. This guy is studying like crazy. I see him in the facility, and he is out there by himself running routes, going through assignments. This guy wants it. He has been successful in other areas, and why not? . . . He certainly looks that part, so he'll be given every opportunity to be a factor for us."

Smith, 27, is realistic about his chances but nevertheless is hopeful that he can fill the Jets' depth issues at tight end. Aside from Dustin Keller, the team's only other options at that position are Jeff Cumberland and Dedrick Epps.

Smith, who played college basketball at Denver's Metropolitan State in 2004, later played rugby in England and helped the United States qualify for the Rugby World Cup last year.

He said the toughest adjustment thus far has been the pace of everything, citing the difference in training styles between rugby and football. "Like the helmet," Smith said. "Eventually, once you're around it long enough, you get used to it."

Physically, he has all the tools. He just has to master the rest of it.

Said Ryan: "I would not bet against this man . . . Those guys are pretty tough."

Jet streams

Within five days of receiving 10 DVDs of last year's defensive front, first-round pick Quinton Coples said he's already grasped "a majority" of the playbook. Such a declaration -- on the first day of rookie minicamp -- drew a smile from Ryan. "That's good. I like his confidence," he said. "And the great thing is, we will hold him to it now." . . . After drawing comparisons between Coples and Shaun Ellis and Stephen Hill and Calvin "Megatron" Johnson last week, Ryan praised Demario Davis' leadership and likened him to Ray Lewis. "There's only one Ray Lewis, but it's interesting," Ryan said of Davis. "His face, mannerisms, passion. I see some things."


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