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Jets sign rugby star to play tight end

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We’ve seen some former college basketball players make the switch to tight end in the NFL, now we’ll see if a rugby player can make the same transition.

Hayden Smith, an Australian who plays rugby in England, has signed with the Jets according to Tim Brewster, the former University of Minnesota head coach who has been training him to make the transition. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News passes along Brewster’s report along with word that the Jets haven’t confirmed the signing.

Smith is 6’6″ and 265 pounds and has also played for the U.S. national rugby team. Like Gates and Jimmy Graham, Smith played college basketball in the U.S. before turning to rugby. Brewster, who also worked with Gates before Gates hit the professional ranks, tweeted that he thinks Smith has great upside.

We’ve seen Australian Rules football players transition to the NFL before as punters, but Smith’s move is very different.  Should the Jets wind up back on Hard Knocks this summer, Smith’s transition should make for a non-Tebow storyline.

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70 Responses to “Jets sign rugby star to play tight end”
  1. letangusespertplus says: Apr 3, 2012 4:52 PM

    Obvious Super Bowl.

  2. theslex says: Apr 3, 2012 4:53 PM

    First they trade for a fullback to be their 2nd string QB, now this?

  3. zampft says: Apr 3, 2012 4:54 PM

    Wait didn’t they already do that at quarterback?

  4. kd727 says: Apr 3, 2012 4:54 PM

    A 6’6, 265 pound former basketball player/rugby player? Sounds like a guy every team could use. Maybe he won’t be able to transition to the league, but his frame/background sure is one hell of a starting point.

  5. mianfr says: Apr 3, 2012 4:55 PM

    Fairly intrigued by this.

    Guy has to be tough as nails to play rugby, and look at those measurements.

    He can be the big blocking tight end the Jets desperately need right away, and with some more refinement may even develop into something of a pass-catcher (I’m not buying the ‘Go directly to Antonio Gates’s skill level’ thing).

    Solid signing.

  6. thankheavenfornumberseven says: Apr 3, 2012 4:55 PM

    Tim Brewster can’t even train a football player to make the transition to the NFL. Now he’s going to do it with a rugby player?

  7. kane337 says: Apr 3, 2012 4:56 PM

    Very interested in how he turns out. If successful will more rugby players make the transition to American football?

  8. ironhawk says: Apr 3, 2012 4:57 PM

    Rugby is a tougher more violent version of gridiron football, so I’d think a lot of their players could make it in the NFL.

  9. agcooney108 says: Apr 3, 2012 4:58 PM

    finally a legit pick up

  10. citizenstrange says: Apr 3, 2012 4:59 PM

    The Jets are really pulling out all the stops to keep their Super Bowl winning streak alive.

  11. marke122 says: Apr 3, 2012 5:00 PM

    This franchise is like an eight year old playing madden and screwing around.

  12. thankheavenfornumberseven says: Apr 3, 2012 5:02 PM

    This is how Tim Brewster trains this guy:

    “It’s real. It’s raw. At times it’s real raw.”

    “Get your chili hot!”

    “If you want to get some, you better bring some. If you want to get some, you better bring some.”

    “If you’re going bear hunting, you’d better be prepared to go get the bear.”

  13. faulkana says: Apr 3, 2012 5:02 PM

    I always thought that a team should try signing Sumo wrestlers for their offensive line. They live their whole lives training to not let anyone push them back. Just sayin’.

  14. napoleonblownapart6887 says: Apr 3, 2012 5:04 PM

    So my family is originally from Jolly Old England, whereas I was born here. My Dad and I have had this argument 10000 times as to whether or not Rugby players could translate to the NFL and vice-versa. I’ve always said that they could, primarily safeties, RBs, smaller linebackers and tight ends, but he has always maintained there is no way.

    Excited to see if this works out, if for no other reason than to rub it in my old man’s face.

  15. backstageatapuppetshow says: Apr 3, 2012 5:08 PM

    Sounds like Moneyball in New Jersey!

  16. Carl Gerbschmidt says: Apr 3, 2012 5:09 PM

    Makes a lot more sense than minny trying to turn professional wrestlers into football players….

    Or governors for that matter…

  17. 4thquartermagic says: Apr 3, 2012 5:15 PM

    Will there be another over the top press conference by the Jets for Hayden Smith”

    Here he will announce, “Me and Dustin Keller are good friends and we are excited to work together.

    I’m here to be a good teammate and I may never be a starting tight end.”

    Get your popcorn ready!

  18. botchedextrapoint says: Apr 3, 2012 5:18 PM

    Star is a bit of a stretch. Didn’t mention what sort of rugby he played. League or Union?
    Been watching rugby league players try to transition to Australian rules over the last few years and while there is no doubting their athleticism they constantly find themselves out of position. Hope it works because there is a lot of talent round the world that might consider a transition to the NFL if this works.

  19. whatnojets says: Apr 3, 2012 5:19 PM

    I like how the New York jets think “outside the box”!

    Looks like we are in the midst of building a monster team!!

  20. yankeesgameday says: Apr 3, 2012 5:20 PM

    he’s a giant for a tight end with obvious run blocking ability based on his background. this guy is exactly the prototype body you want on the outside of a line blocking for Tebow in running schemes.

    if he can catch at all and run routes it open up some play action off that formation.

    this is the first step in building the team around Timmy.

    Mark, call your agent… again.

  21. washburn1000 says: Apr 3, 2012 5:23 PM

    This story must be a late April Fools joke… I hear Woody ordered Tannenbaum to sign several WNBA players to add depth at wide receiver

  22. jetsuperbowl says: Apr 3, 2012 5:26 PM

    This signing have me a woody johnson

  23. jakek2 says: Apr 3, 2012 5:30 PM

    Glad the Jets are using this offseason to stock up on non-NFL caliber football players. I know a guy who knows a guy that is a fantastic gardener. Maybe the Jets can use a new long snapper.

  24. chawk12thman says: Apr 3, 2012 5:32 PM

    Transition may be tough as he won’t give up on getting to the ball when the play is obviously over……

  25. 49ersgiants4life says: Apr 3, 2012 5:35 PM

    Better pay then rugby I would be down for the NFL too. Expecting him to be a beast I hate the jets but I can’t wait to see how this guy turns out!

  26. babyhorsemorgan says: Apr 3, 2012 5:37 PM

    Authorities in Australia would like to speak to Hayden about Gilbert’s missing rugby ball, if he ever returns to that country.

  27. Deb says: Apr 3, 2012 5:38 PM

    Don’t know what kind of tight end he’ll make, but he’ll probably be one of the toughest players on the team.

  28. marcus158 says: Apr 3, 2012 5:40 PM

    As a Brit who is a HUGE football fan and dabbles in rugby (soccer is for pansies) I’m interested to see how this turns out.

    Would love to see more international players make it to the NFL who aren’t kickers or punters. There’s plenty of American players who suck at their respective positions *cough*Tebow*cough* so what are teams going to lose from taking a couple of rugby players and seeing what they can do?

  29. dsigrey says: Apr 3, 2012 5:41 PM

    ironhawk says:
    Apr 3, 2012 4:57 PM
    Rugby is a tougher more violent version of gridiron football, so I’d think a lot of their players could make it in the NFL.

    As someone who’s played both, you couldn’t be more wrong. Football is way more violent, faster and tougher. If rugby was more violent there wouldn’t be any players left. If rugby players took the hits NFL players take without the helmet and pads they would be carried off the field. Your own self preservation won’t let you make those hits without pads. Rugby gets this big bad rep because they don’t wear pads, that’s it. Go watch a pro level rugby game live, then a NFL game live and you will clearly see the difference.

  30. Stiller43 says: Apr 3, 2012 5:45 PM

    Antonio gates and jimmy graham playe basketball and then turned to rugby?

  31. duanethomas says: Apr 3, 2012 5:54 PM

    Instead of drafting a college prospect whose is younger and coming off a successful college career or signing a NFL free agent tightend they sign a Rugby Star for Australia. Now you see why they have won 3 SuperBowls in a row. The Hollywood Jets!!!! 🙂

  32. botchedextrapoint says: Apr 3, 2012 5:59 PM

    yankeesgameday says:
    Apr 3, 2012 5:20 PM
    he’s a giant for a tight end with obvious run blocking ability based on his background.

    No blocking allowed in rugby mate.

  33. andyreiddoublecheeseburger says: Apr 3, 2012 6:02 PM

    A rugby player? How did the Vikings not already sign this guy- would fit in nicely with their new point guard.

  34. spawn201 says: Apr 3, 2012 6:09 PM

    I got just one question. Does he like his chili hot?

  35. lockoftheweak says: Apr 3, 2012 6:17 PM

    I can see a rugby player making the NFL but a NFL’er making a rugby team? I say no way.

  36. realitypolice says: Apr 3, 2012 6:51 PM


    Not sure how a player who played his rugby position- second row- translates to NFL tight end.

    Second rows translate roughly (very roughly) to football guards, except they can’t actually block. They don’t spend much time maneuvering in the open field and most of their touches come off of very short lateral passes in tight quarters.

    And as I already mentioned, blocking is illegal in rugby so he will have to learn that technique from the ground up.

    I would think inside and outside centers, who in international play usually run in the 6’2″-6’5″, 230-240 range and spend a lot of time running with ball in space would be better candidates.

    Wish this guy the best of luck, though. If he succeeds, I want everyone on this site who disparages rugby to understand that this guy is a very low level international player. He wouldn’t even crack the roster on any top level national team.

  37. hawkforlife says: Apr 3, 2012 6:51 PM

    Who runs this franchise, Goofy? Mr. Magoo? I’d love to hear the position coach’s real feelings about spending time with a guy that never played football. Course if he told the truth he’s be canned in a minute.

  38. portnoychunk says: Apr 3, 2012 6:57 PM

    As a Pats fan: why not? Sometimes shots in the dark like this work out really well. The guy is big & obviously a very good athlete. If it works – Jets look really smart, if not, he’s just another guy that gets cut in camp. We’ve seen what guys like Gronk, Witten, Gates, Davis, and Graham can do. It’s a pretty weak TE class in the draft, so I applaud the creativity.

  39. sickcuz says: Apr 3, 2012 7:03 PM

    Not a Jets fan, but I like the signing because it shows creativity.

  40. Kave Krew says: Apr 3, 2012 7:18 PM

    Willy Wonka??? U got to be kidding me

  41. upyoursnfu says: Apr 3, 2012 7:24 PM

    Practice squad

  42. i10east says: Apr 3, 2012 7:52 PM

    Maybe the Jets fans can start a tradition by blowing didgeridoos you know, similar to to soccer vuvuzela craze. I’m quite sure that Tim Tebow would approve of that.

  43. commandercornpone says: Apr 3, 2012 8:06 PM

    rugby, no pads, no helmet

    he’s already tougher than most of the players in the nfl

  44. mianfr says: Apr 3, 2012 8:27 PM

    Going to disagree with the assessment that this is a weak TE class in the draft. I see three future stars (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and Orson Charles) and there are others who could impress. Not much more you can ask for.

    Also, Jets fans, he can’t be worse than Matt “Mr. False Start” Mulligan.

  45. bensstinkyfingers says: Apr 3, 2012 8:36 PM

    Next Weeks Headline: Jets Sign Former Mud Dog alum and Professional H2O distribution specialist Bobby Boucher for Starting Middle Linebacker Position. Hope they sign up for hard knocks this year, must see TV.!

  46. illadelphiasphinest says: Apr 3, 2012 8:37 PM

    Title should be. ” The NY Circus adds a new performer!”

  47. nannymcsack says: Apr 3, 2012 8:45 PM

    an australian that played college basketball in the us and now plays rugby in england, this guy got it in on 3 continents. that being said, Gronk already exists and shall not be replicated or surpassed.

  48. altoon88 says: Apr 3, 2012 8:47 PM

    I hope this guy does well, but Tannenbaum needs to stop going after project players.

    Also we don’t need Tebow in every article. This has nothing to do with Tebow but you still had to slide him in at the end.

  49. jerseyshoregiant says: Apr 3, 2012 8:50 PM

    ironhawk says:Apr 3, 2012 4:57 PM

    Rugby is a tougher more violent version of gridiron football, so I’d think a lot of their players could make it in the NFL.
    That’s just flat out ridiculous!!! Rugby tackling is so different than getting hit in football. In rugby there aren’t any straight up, head on hits. The speed in football is so much faster. Foreign Rugby players have no idea what it’s like to get “stuck”!!! American rugby players are guys that are not good enough to make it in football!
    Gates and Jimmy Graham at least had a basic football background when they were growing up.

  50. getyourownname says: Apr 3, 2012 9:03 PM

    Jets FO is planning to assign him to their Class A minor league affiliate, let him get experience, then bring him up from Triple A with end of the season call-ups.

  51. patsfiend says: Apr 3, 2012 9:18 PM

    Rugby guys are tough as nails. 6′ 6″? This guy could be a beast. Why not take a flyer on him?

    If nothing else, they could use him to cover the Gronkinator next year and that might be worth it.

  52. nflfan555 says: Apr 3, 2012 9:19 PM

    And the clown cars move down broadway….

  53. 3yrsnfl says: Apr 3, 2012 10:22 PM

    Always wondered about a shifty running back playing rugby. There are never any fakes, just straight ahead running? Or….an old Southwest Conference option QB playing rugby.

  54. wwwmattcom says: Apr 3, 2012 10:30 PM

    Creativity or desperation?

  55. arrooo says: Apr 3, 2012 11:19 PM

    Stephen Neal was an all-pro with the Patriots and he didn’t play football. He was an NCAA national champion wrestler. Sometimes outside the box, pays off nicely

  56. armchairqb says: Apr 3, 2012 11:24 PM

    Rugby is tough, but nowhere near as high impact as football when it comes to collisions. Not even close. Rugby is far more about finesse and ball movement than brute force at many positions.

    This guy may be an athlete, but he’s probably not a football player. There’s a difference.

  57. lifeimitatesfootball says: Apr 3, 2012 11:35 PM

    I can actually see this sorta thing work…just not with the Jets, who already have a RB playing QB, a WR running the wildcat, and an andriod playing FB (sorry for the Terminator joke). Maybe they move Revis to LB!

  58. jw5111 says: Apr 3, 2012 11:36 PM

    Ask Dhani Jones what he thinks, he had that show where he traveled all over participating in local activities, including Rugby.

  59. winninitall says: Apr 4, 2012 12:06 AM

    I at the jets were going to sign this guy a few days ago. This guy is massive, and runs a 40 in 4.75. I’m pretty excited to see the transaction. As far as Tebow, this guy is going to be the real deal.

  60. pooinyourface says: Apr 4, 2012 12:22 AM

    Jets haters are retards, poor babies hate a team that hasnt won sh*t 40 something years. Worry bout your own teams, stop crying about the back page

  61. jrs1972 says: Apr 4, 2012 12:49 AM

    ok, can he throw? they still need someone at least competent at one position they have been ignoring.

  62. ilovefoolsball says: Apr 4, 2012 1:45 AM

    Aw man another guy goes to the jets that I feel sorry for because he’ll never win with that team.

  63. seidinho says: Apr 4, 2012 1:48 AM

    At first I read: ‘Jets sign Ruby Star’ and thought they’ve gotten themselves a porn star to play ‘tight end’.

  64. ImproperRedskin says: Apr 4, 2012 2:25 AM

    What’s next? Dancing girls?

  65. discosucs2005 says: Apr 4, 2012 4:51 AM

    commandercornpone says:
    Apr 3, 2012 8:06 PM
    rugby, no pads, no helmet

    he’s already tougher than most of the players in the nfl

    I do not think this is not the case. While there are certain injuries that are more likely without a helmet on (poked eyes for example (and I don’t think any amount of toughness makes a poked eye easier to deal with)), you actually throw your body around more if you’re wearing pads. I don’t doubt there are some very tough rugby players, but I don’t think playing rugby makes you inherently more tough because of a lack of pads.

    This is actually not the first time the Jets have explored something like this. A good friend of mine’s cousin plays professional rugby in Ireland and the Jets once reached out to him to go to camp to try and make the team as a running back. He ended up not going because he didn’t want to give up rugby. I can’t wait to see if this pans out or not. Even if it doesn’t still an interesting storyline to follow (that doesn’t involve the Cowboy’s cap violations, Tebow, or the word “bounty”).

  66. trollhammer20 says: Apr 4, 2012 1:22 PM

    I was kind of surprised no one asked Jonah Lomu to try out for fullback about 10 years ago. Talk about a beast.

    Rugby is a hard contact sport. Football is a collision sport. Big difference between the two.

  67. jetfanfolife says: Apr 4, 2012 1:25 PM

    Rugby is more head to head than American football which is why pads and helmets aren’t necessary. You aren’t running full speed into defenders, they are already in your face.

    Football (American) you run full speed one way and the opposing side is running at full speed coming at you, this kind of makes it more violent then rugby.

  68. wittenisgod says: Apr 4, 2012 7:53 PM

    People forget that rugby you don’t actually get a 30 second break every 10 seconds. Would love a Fijian prop to spark up someone like gore would put an end to it

  69. jlewsey15 says: Apr 5, 2012 7:02 AM

    Being English and playing rugby and loving the NFL I feel I can add something that’s not too stupid.

    Football is more violent I agree it is but that’s due to the fact that pads are worn so people dont worry about getting hurt. Rugby is a much more skilled game in terms of defense. I am utterly amazed by the distinct lack of basic tackling technique in the NFL. A player can’t run with out the use of his legs so tackle low with the shoulder and wrap up with the arms. The amount of missed tackles is amazing.

    In terms of toughness that’s a tricky one. You get a lot more cuts grazes bruises bumps stamp marks in rugby by it’s nature. The almost non stop action also males them fitter and have tons more stamina.
    The NFL has harder hits true but a lot of those get shaken off within a play or 2.

    If NFL players could tackle like rugby players then there would be a lot less points scored and the defence would give up less yardage etc etc. Basics

  70. drdaryl1 says: Oct 29, 2012 11:53 AM

    Remember that Rugby Union and Gridiron are cousins!! Both are COLLISION sports requiring great athleticism, strength, power, speed, quick thinking/instincts, and bravery. Both sports have a huge concussion issue.

    Rugby requires all the players to be able to handle the ball and play offense and defense. Even the guys given the place kicking responsibilites (penalty goals and conversions) in rugby also have to play in the field. They may have their “bell rung” one minute and then have to gather themselves to kick a winning penalty or conversion! Rugby Union is much more flowing with fewer breaks in the action.

    In Rugby, there is no “blocking” and tackling requires more technique – the tackler must wrap up the opponent and not just throw a diving shoulder into the opponent’s knees. Therefore, the injuries tend to be different. Given the tackling style and blocking/cutting that charactizes football, the result is the dreaded “Terrible Triad” knee injuries: ACL, MCL, and Meniscus!

    For those that don’t think Union is a collision sport, try crouching over a ruck defenseless and having an opponent exploding into you at full force! Or, try tackling a 230 poind pacific islander running at full speed down the sideline with minimal protection.

    On the other hand, Europeans will say Football players have all that protection and aren’t as tough as Rugby players. Well, Football padding has evolved from just protection to becoming weapons. Gridiron’s speed and sheer power surpasses Rugby. Just think: 300 lb athletes that run sub 5 sec 40 yards!! It’s no wonder padding is a requirement!

    In the states, we see more young junior high and highschool rugby players that also play football that end up earning football scholarships. An Ohio State football player on special teams with a significant rugby backround was drafted by the Patriots (forget name). Many young American rugby players with football backrounds earn scholarships to play college football. Not sure if Smith is picking up football too late in life.

    So anyway, Hayden’s athleticism, tackling prowess, mental and physical toughness, experience on the world’s stage, and determination should make this an interesting proposition. It’s not costing the Jets much by having him on the practice squaud either!

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