The guy from Down Under needs to get lower. A lot lower.
Jarryd Hayne, a relative newcomer to American football, showed nice hands and quick feet during the 49ers’ spring practices that wrapped up Thursday. The next step in his football education, however, will be a big one: learning how to drop his pad level so he can deliver blocks and avoid becoming an easy target for tacklers when he has the ball.
Hayne, 27, will head back to Australia this weekend for about a month. When he returns, his lessons will continue.
“I don’t think he’s really going to be able to do anything about it until he starts playing real football, until they start playing ‘bang,’” running backs coach Tom Rathman said Thursday. “I’m hoping that he’ll figure it out pretty quick then.”
Rathman said Hayne, a star in the Australian National Rugby League before attempting to land with an NFL team this offseason, made progress over the last few months and is “right on track.” Hayne spent the May and June practices learning the playbook and showing off soft hands, both as a running back and punt returner. He showed a knack for the latter, and he and Reggie Bush handled the bulk of the punts in the spring.
But his running style was too upright, and coaches worry that he will expose himself to too many jarring hits if he runs that way when the pads go on in training camp.
The first thing Rathman will do is put Hayne on the blocking sled, which will force him to lower his posture if he wants to move it properly.
“Getting down low, accelerating through that target,” Rathman said. “It’ll be interesting. I haven’t seen him hit the sled because obviously we haven’t had pads. I think I know what I’m going to see.”
Rathman said it’s not entirely uncharted territory. Fullbacks Bruce Miller and Will Tukuafu were defensive players before Rathman started working with them. Miller is the 49ers’ starting fullback and Tukuafu has been with the Seattle Seahawks for the past two seasons.
Rathman said Hayne has the right combination of intelligence and athleticism to pull off the conversion like Miller did in 2011.
“You put those two things together – savvy, smart player that’s athletic – you’re going to potentially have some success there,” he said.