Jarryd Hayne is attending training sessions with notes tucked into his shorts, prompting the occasional laugh from his San Francisco 49ers teammates.
“He goes out to walk-through (practice) with a cheat sheet,” said Carlos Hyde, the 49ers projected starting running back this season. “That’s the first time I’ve seen anyone go out with notes.”
Hyde’s anecdote provides a unique insight into the extraordinary measures Hayne is taking to learn both the tactical and physical elements of his new sport.
Almost none of his teammates have grasped how famous Hayne is back home but, after today’s press conference, the penny is starting to drop.
Hyde marvelled at the scrum of reporters gathered around Hayne as he sat at his locker afterwards next to fellow running backs Kendall Hunter, Kendall Gaskins and the former Parramatta Eels star, who was furiously scribbling down plays.
“Jarryd’s a great guy,” said Hyde, a second-year running back who is the favourite to replace Frank Gore. “He’s got some learning to do, but he’s catching on pretty quick. He definitely can run with the ball in his hand. Rugby made him right.
“I try to help him but I”m still learning myself.”
Hayne’s teammates look forward to seeing what he can bring to a storeyed franchise that missed the playoffs last year for the first time in four seasons. They’re also overcoming the off-season departures of coach Jim Harbaugh and all-time leading rusher Gore, among others.
“He’s a heck of an athlete,” newcomer wide receiver Torrey Smith said of Hayne. “I’ve been able to watch him run around and I’m very impressed. He’s smart, too.”
Hayne announced on March 2 he was leaving Australia to sign with the 49ers, having also considered the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks. His three-year, $1.5 million deal includes nearly $100,000 guaranteed, which is a sizeable amount for someone who’s never played American football.
Hayne’s attempt at an NFL career centres on his ability to quickly learn a running back’s duties, especially in pass protection, and, more likely, whatever return skills he can show on kick-offs and punts.
“It’s been, obviously, a huge learning experience,” Hayne said. “Every day there’s more plays coming that I have to know.”
“I didn’t realise how agile they are,” Hayne said. “I watched video and saw (left tackle) Joe Staley (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) just shooting out of left tackle. For a big unit, they really can move.”
Asked if he expects to make the roster in four months, Hayne humbly replied: “We’re only three weeks in, so I’m just taking it day by day and taking baby steps at the moment.”
Two years ago, the 49ers imported another international athlete, taking a flyer on British discus thrower Lawrence Okoye, who also had a rugby background. Okoye, a 6-foot-6 defensive lineman, spent his rookie year on an injured list because of a knee issue and he served last season on the 10-man practice squad.
Hayne would seem to have a more legitimate shot at making the opening-day roster come September, and otherwise he’s an ideal practice-squad candidate.
Hayne’s transition from National Rugby League star to National Football League rookie is teaching him humility, and so much more.
With the 49ers first minicamp in full swing, Hayne did his best to downplay the huge media presence from both Australia and the US.
“Everyone’s good and you have to realise everyone is trying to make the roster,” Hayne said. “We’ve got maybe 50 per cent of the boys guaranteed a spot, and the rest are still chipping away, looking to make the squad.
“Part of this experience was that humbling of myself.”
Teammates have peppered him with questions about Australia, or as Hayne specified, “about the kangaroos, about what are the deadliest animals in Australia, and if we play the (New Zealand) All Blacks.”
Jarryd Hayne: “I don’t put any limits on what I can do.” Says learning playbook terminology is biggest challenge. pic.twitter.com/Wso8Eexwmv
— Tyler Emerick (@TylerEmerick) April 29, 2015
“I say it’s only in the bush land,” Hayne continued. “You’re not going to be in the hotel and snakes are going to come through. Being from Australia, there’s a misconception.”
Hayne is learning more than American football. He’s missing Australian coffee, among other things.
“The only time I get homesick or sad is when something happens in Australia like the storms,” Hayne said. “It’s not so much I want to go home. But I do miss it and want to be around family.
“It’s been a great journey and I still have a long way to go. I look forward to the challenges.”