With three games remaining in the NFL Season, injuries ravaging their Running Back stocks, and being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention already, you’d think now might be the time for the San Francisco 49ers to begin looking toward their future and allowing prodigiously talented gamble Jarryd Hayne some more game time.
But Hayne – the highly publicised ‘Strayan crossover from the NRL – seems destined to run out the remainder of the season on the 49ers Practice Squad, with coaching staff seemingly steadfast in their belief that that’s where he is best suited at this early stage in his NFL career.
Hayne, of course, was the story of the NFL pre-season, lighting up fields with electric pace and an innate ability to make the first defender miss on punt returns. But a series of dropped punts in his first regular season tilts saw him relegated out of the Niners 53-man gameday squad and instead placed onto the team’s practice unit.
The Niners have suffered a horrific run of injuries, it should be said. But their offensive unit this year has been bad, at best – and at worst has been an absolute disaster. Lagging badly with a 4-9 record (tied for the worst record in the NFC), the Niners are the bottom ranked offence in the league, with an overall points differential of a staggering -127. The Cleveland Browns are the only other team in the league sporting a negative three-figure mark in that regard.
Whilst Hayne’s time on the Niners practice squad has been productive – forcing him to fill other roles on the field such as linebacker or safety, and thus gifting him a broader understanding of the different roles in American Football – the Niners coaching staff have been blunt in their assessment.
Whilst head coach Jim Tomsula wasn’t exactly bursting with enthusiasm when he recently stated, “We see Jarryd in practice. He’s practicing very hard,” it was Special Teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey who was far more brutal in his thoughts.
“He just needs to learn the game from the inside out.”
“Obviously, from what he did in the pre-season, he did some good stuff. He put some good stuff on tape and we thought he had skills enough to be a punt returner.”
“It just didn’t work out.”
For what it’s worth, Hayne’s season stats still rank among San Francisco’s best for the year.
His punt return average of 9.7 yards is the side’s best. Whilst his yards-per-carry of 3.1 when filling in at RB is up there with the Niners’ preferred RBs performances.
Hayne’s future heading towards 2016 is unclear. The Niners could, indeed, opt to offer him a spot on their practice squad again, where Hayne would continue to work towards breaking back into the side. Or, as a free agent, he could test the waters of the open market in the hopes that another side picks him up.
Failing both of those options, the marvellous experiment that is Jarryd Hayne could come to a screeching halt, way before it was arguably due to do so.
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.