Former rugby league star Hayne continues to make NFL strides
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jarryd Hayne certainly had no intention of inducing a collective laugh when it came to his thoughts on the fair catch in football.
“You stick your hand in the air and they can’t touch you,” he said, straight-faced.
The former Australian rugby league star is coolly making his way through an impressive first training camp with the San Francisco 49ers, showing that just maybe he can prove everybody wrong and earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
With a little unintentional humor mixed in to boot.
The 27-year-old rookie is saying all the right things, too: He’s far from polished, is still learning every day and wants to improve each week. No bold predictions about his standing, either.
Hayne’s next chance in a game situation Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys will be another opportunity to build off quite a preseason debut last weekend at Houston. He had a 53-yard run early in the second quarter of a 23-10 loss Saturday night to the Texans and five carries for 63 yards in all. In addition, there was his 33-yard kickoff return and a pair of punt returns totaling 24 yards.
“I felt comfortable out there, and I think it showed,” Hayne said Thursday. “I was always confident. For me, I didn’t need a play to have that confidence. It’s one of those things, with good or bad, I knew that I always was going to have to work on something.”
Hayne has never doubted he could make the daunting switch from rugby to football, even given the increased contact involved for a man who just pulled pads on for the first time earlier this month to take his first training camp hit.
While Hayne knows he might have to fair catch at some point, he trusts his instincts and ability to catch the ball and get away.
“I had opportunities to do it, but I backed my ability,” he said. “I felt comfortable being able to catch the ball and get out of the way.”
49ers special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr. loves that “fearless” nature. He and coach Jim Tomsula saw glimpses of that in watching hours of rugby game film to scout Hayne.
“We’ve got to find out what we have and if we take a knee we’ll never find out,” McGaughey said of Hayne’s returns. “You obviously want to make smart decisions, but Jarryd is fearless. That’s one of the characteristics that it takes to be a great punt returner. It’s fun when you see a guy that can make that first guy miss and he’s not scared because he’s very, very comfortable fielding the ball and when you have that fearlessness it definitely gives you an edge on your opponent.”
Hayne spent the past nine years — from 2006-14 — with the Parramatta Eels of the Australian National Rugby League before deciding to make this move. He is a big deal back home, everyone having taken notice.
“There’s huge amounts of excitement back in Australia, friends and family that have been along for the journey as well. They’re ecstatic not only to see me play but I guess to see me do well,” Hayne said. “It’s a huge thing that I’ve done with taking that chance, so they find a lot of joy in it.”
Whether others will follow his path, Hayne isn’t sure. Nor does he have time at the moment to reflect much on his previous life.
“If they can play like Jarryd,” McGaughey said, “they might have a shot.”
Notes: On Wednesday, a punch was thrown by 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton during practice after he became tangled up with defensive lineman Tank Carradine following a running play in 11-on-11 drills. Offensive players along the sideline quickly broke up the scuffle and Tomsula stopped practice for a bit before both players remained on the field. ... The 49ers will honor late Hall of Fame broadcaster Lon Simmons before Sunday’s preseason game against Dallas, with his family members scheduled to attend. Simmons died in April at 91. “I felt that Candlestick and I were soul mates,” Simmons said in 2013 ahead of The Stick’s last season. “We were both big and ugly, we were both windy, and they could never figure out how to get rid of either one of us.”
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