Jarryd Hayne Report Card: How Former Rugby Star is Faring in NFL

Cam Inman is the 49ers beat writer for the Bay Area News Group. He assesses how Jarryd Hayne rates among typical NFL players after the completion of the 49ers’ mini-camps and OTAs.

Jarryd Hayne’s Report Card

Hayne in the scarlet and gold. / Getty Images

Running form: 4
Receiving form: 8
Return ability: 9
Strength: 7
Vision: 8
Fitness: 9
Acceleration: 7
Ball security: 8
Blocking skills: 7
Playbook knowledge: 7
Camaraderie: 9

Jarryd Hayne’s No. 38 jersey finally can rest in the San Francisco 49ers locker room for the next five weeks.

His transformation from NRL star to NFL rookie is not done, however.

Hayne has plenty to prove once he reports back for training camp in late July. Until then, he’ll spend the next few weeks home in Sydney, where one of his first tasks will be to undergo surgery Tuesday on a cyst in his right foot.

That ailment hasn’t slowed his daring attempt at an NFL career.

“He’s starting to get it,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Wednesday at minicamp, the last stage of a two-month off-season program. “You’re seeing it again, especially catching punts. The guy is a world-class athlete.”

Hayne’s rugby-league fame wasn’t initially known to his 49ers teammates.

That all changed a few YouTube clicks later, or at least when several Australian reporters swarmed Hayne for his first interview April 29 at the 49ers’ facility in Santa Clara, some 45 minutes south of San Francisco.

Hayne is put through his paces at 49ers training. / Source: Supplied

Hayne is put through his paces at 49ers training. / Source: Supplied

Then, in a blink, Hayne retreated into the role of any roster hopeful, like dozens of other newcomers trying to last through final cuts on Sept. 5.

“From where I’ve come and all the advice I’ve been given, it’s all coming to the front now with reps and understanding,” Hayne, 27, said. “… The more time I get on the field and the more time I get training, I’ll understand the concepts and the routes a lot better.”

Two months ago, he was so puzzled by the 49ers playbook he would take notes onto the practice field and stuff them into his shorts. His late-night study sessions inside his team-issued hotel room have paid off, where he now is familiar with the schemes inside his iPad playbook.

However, he’s no expert, nor does he pretend to be. On the sideline, he’ll occasionally check with a low-level assistant on his assignment before being summoned onto the field by position coach Tom Rathman, a two-time Super Bowl champion as a 49ers running back from 1986-93.

Rathman, a no-nonsense but enthusiastic mentor, is as curious as anyone to see if Hayne emerges as a bona fide playmaker. Rathman treats all running backs equal, but he’s made sure to give Hayne tips along the way when a hiccup occurs.

Colin Kaepernick is in the red shorts and red leggings, Jarryd Hayne is third from the right. / Source: Supplied

“There’s been half-dozen times I’ve been called out with the wrong read or not seeing it a bit early,” Hayne said. “I don’t feel out of my depth learning that and it’s something I’ll get better at.”

Any novice observer, including beat reporters, can see that Hayne’s running style sets him apart, in a concerning way. The upper torso of his 6-foot-2 frame remains too high, rather than low to the ground so he can slither through the minuscule cracks past his linemen’s blocks.

“Obviously my running style is the biggest thing I have to change, being so high,” Hayne said. “We watched some video of where I was to where I am now, and it’s better, but obviously a lot more I need to improve.”

Tomsula agreed, and he recalled bluntly telling Hayne: “They’re could be a play where you come through there and you’re treetop tall, and 53 (linebacker NaVorro Bowman) is going to hit you in the chest. I’d like you to listen now before you get the wind knocked out of you.”

Hayne won’t experience his first contact until a few days into training camp, and then in the exhibition games, starting Aug. 15 at the Houston Texans.

“That’s probably the key indicator, when we get pads on,” Hayne said. “It’s one thing running routes with no pads, but it will be a different level when pads come on.”

It’s one thing to put pads on for a half-dozen training sessions with a Sydney team. It’s another to suit up in true NFL armor, and atop his locker sits a fresh set of Riddell’s Power SPK shoulder pads.

“With the pads on, you learn to drop lower, everybody does,” fullback Bruce Miller said. “To be able to be where he is now and make that transition, I thought he’d be further behind.”

Hayne’s rugby-league experience in fielding balls and weaving through defenders will shine best on the 49ers’ special teams, and that is where he ultimately must earn a spot on the 53-man roster instead of the 10-man practice squad.

Bruce Ellington, last year’s return specialist, has missed the past two months of practice with a hamstring injury. But he is expected back in training camp, and he’ll offer stiff competition for Hayne, as well as 10th-year running back Reggie Bush.

Hayne must be more than a backup running back, behind Bush, Carlos Hyde (the projected starter), Kendall Hunter and rookie Mike Davis. Tomsula, a former coach in the now-defunct NFL Europe, has a soft spot in his heart of newcomers to the sport, however.

Hayne gets the better of Kaepernick in a game of table tennis. / Source: Supplied

Hayne gets the better of Kaepernick in a game of table tennis.Source: Supplied

“He’s used to playing that wide open (rugby league) game,” Tomsula said. “Now it’s all crunched up. That’s where he’s got to get used to in the run game. He’s doing really well.”

Hayne is also thriving in the locker room. He offers a fresh face to a team that’s been devastated in recent months by retirements of four key players and departures of other mainstays to rival teams.

“He’s a cool guy, he’s doing real well and he gets along with everyone,” said Ellington, a second-year wide receiver whose locker is next to Hayne’s. “He gave me some Australian chocolate, and, man, it was good.”

Hayne’s foot surgery will take place in Australia because, if 49ers doctors did it, he wouldn’t be allowed to fly for three weeks and wouldn’t be able to vacation in his native land. This way, he’ll be back in Australia, though unable to attend Origin II on Wednesday night in Melbourne.

Once Hayne goes back to the Bay Area, he’ll move out of the hotel room provided to him by the 49ers and find a new place to live. He’s finally procured a car, but not the perfect cup of coffee offering an Australian-like boost.

“I’m still searching for coffee,” Hayne said, “but there’s a good little spot in downtown San Jose.”

Hayne seemingly has a spot in the 49ers’ plans. But he has more days, weeks and months ahead to determine exactly what that role will be.

Improving in pass-protection drills is one way he’s boosted his self-confidence.

“Me being a playmaker in rugby league, part of that was reading body language,” Hayne said, “and that’s something Tom (Rathman) is really big on.”

To be continued: Hayne’s big adventure in America.

Source: foxsports.com.au

Cam Inman
49ers reporter Bay Area News Group. Instagram @49ersCam. Little League coach, bogey golfer, softball dad
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