The 49ers’ rookies don’t have to report for training camp until Monday, but some players – rookies and veterans alike – already are trickling in, including running back Jarryd Hayne.
That’s no surprise. Hayne has proven professional, dedicated and sincere in his quest to land on an NFL roster. The next big step is training camp.
And yet ... there was at least a teensy weensy question about whether he would return after his first taste of the NFL in the spring. After all, he’s a bona fide superstar in his native Australia, where he spent the past month. It’s a world away in Santa Clara, where he is essentially just another guy trying to make the roster.
The spring sessions also must have given Hayne a clearer picture of what he’s up against. Not only is he learning a new sport, he’s competing with a slew of talented players to make the squad. Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter and Mike Davis are near-locks to make the roster at running back. Where does that leave Hayne?
Finally, it only gets more difficult – and more dangerous – from here. Coach Jim Tomsula noted that the spring practices, which are held without pads, lend themselves very well to someone with a Rugby League background. The pads go on in a couple of weeks, and Tomsula and others already have expressed concern with Hayne’s upright and exposed running style.
But there are reasons for optimism, too.
When the 49ers signed Hayne in March, one question from the Australian media was whether Hayne – a foreigner who was established in another sport and now would try to take a roster spot from a young player – would be resented in an NFL locker room. .
There hasn’t been a whiff of that in Santa Clara. Hayne, who grew up in locker rooms, has navigated the 49ers’ locker room culture extremely well and blended in as seamlessly as someone with an Australian accent could. That shows adaptability and humility, perhaps the qualities his endeavor requires more than any other. He’s already well liked by notable veterans such as Bush and Colin Kaepernick, as this footage suggests.
He also performed well on the field. Anyone who watched Rugby League footage knew Hayne was fast and explosive for a big man. The spring surprise was how well he caught the ball, both as a punt returner and as a receiver out of the backfield. The latter is notable considering his quarterback has a fastball once clocked at 94 mph.
Finally, there’s a sense Hayne will feel far more comfortable than he did during the April-June sessions when he was practicing with a cyst on the arch of his left foot. The cyst was surgically removed as soon as he returned to Australia after the final minicamp in June, and Hayne now is running without pain.
He can make his cuts with greater ease, and for the past few weeks, he was able to follow the workout script the 49ers sent with him to Australia.
Will Hayne make the squad? That’s to be determined. What’s certain is the interesting story that began when the 49ers signed him will have at least a few more chapters.