During his first week back at work in Santa Clara, Jarryd Hayne found himself in a haze similar to what he spent much of his first NFL season.
After four days of attempting to absorb Chip Kelly’s new playbook with the 49ers, Hayne said things suddenly clicked during the three-day break between the first and second weeks of the team’s offseason program.
“The biggest difference from last year is I’m a lot more comfortable to be able to come in and learn straight away,” said Hayne, 28, who last year appeared in eight games after leaving his career as a star in the Australia’s National Rugby League to play in the NFL.
“The first four days were a bit of a shock and reminded me a lot of last year. But then over the weekend being able to study and for everything to come a lot faster than it did last year. Because it’s kind of remembering the calls from last year and then refreshing that and putting the new calls in my head and changing what we used to call it last year to what we’re calling it this year.”
After experiencing success during the exhibition season, Hayne had a difficult time earning his way onto the field due to his lack of understanding of the sport, in general, and the 49ers’ playbook and his assignments, in particular.
Hayne already feels as if he’s further along, despite the new terminology that was introduced to the players when they reported to the offseason program on April 4.
“It was weird because I was studying Monday to Thursday, then I’m just like, ‘I’m going to have a day off just to clear my head.’ I did that,” Hayne said.
“And come Saturday I was OK. Then, Sunday, it just went ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ It felt great because I learned the majority of the calls and now it’s about piecing them together. It is difficult, but it’s a challenge, and I enjoy that.”
Hayne said his football IQ is much more advanced, as far as his understanding of pass routes and his role in pass protection. The 49ers' coaching staff is allowed on the field Monday for the first time to begin working with the players. In the first two weeks of the offseason program, players have been allowed to meet with coaches, but all the on-field work has been limited to work with the strength and conditioning staff.
“It’s trying to fit what I learned last year and put it into what we’re learning this year,” he said.
“I learned a lot last year and I got the blueprint now. So it’s about going over there and perfecting the playbook, and understanding what schemes we’re running and executing it at a high level.”
Physically, Hayne’s most difficult adjustment was to change his style of running from the up-right style of rugby league to the importance of running with a low pad level. Hayne rushed for 52 yards on 17 attempts (3.1 yards per attempt) as a rookie.
He said he spent the offseason working on strengthening his hips and glutes in order to become a more efficient and impactful runner.
“I’m tall as well, so that makes it even harder,” he said. “(It’s having) more balance when I go down. Everybody can get low, but it’s maintaining balance and being able to come out of a cut strong and do that at a high speed. Those are the biggest things for me that I’ve been focusing on.”