The San Francisco 49ers had an up and down year with Australian running back and kick returner Jarryd Hayne during his rookie season. He signed last spring, and made the roster out of training camp. He had some issues dropping the ball early on, and was eventually waived on October 31 to make room for Kendall Gaskins. The 49ers signed him to the practice squad after he cleared waivers, and he remained there through Week 15. The 49ers promoted him to the 53-man roster for Week 16, where he remained through the end of the season.
There were numerous questions about the 49ers decision-making with regard to Hayne. He showed skill in open space, but obviously had plenty work to do in learning many of the fundamentals of football. It is hard to tell exactly what special teams coach Thomas McGaughey and head coach Jim Tomsula thought about him beyond the occasional quotations in press conferences. However, we finally have heard at least something from Trent Baalke.
The 49ers GM spoke with Sydney Morning Herald sports writer Michael Chammas, and provided more insight on Hayne's situation this past year.
"In that point in time, we just felt he needed more time, he needed more seasoning and we needed some guys on the 53 that could be on the 46 that would give us the best chance of winning football games."
Plenty of fans raised the issue of him potentially being claimed off waivers when the 49ers released him. And furthermore, a team could sign him off the practice squad at any point. Baalke talked about weighing the odds of that, and was comfortable with the decision.
"Any time you waive a player during the season, you risk the chance of losing them. That's the way this business is set up," Baalke said. "So you try and do the best you can in making those decisions and look at it from an outsider's perspective and say to yourself 'ok, what is the likelihood of this guy getting claimed'. I think that there were enough signs that he was still ways away in respect to development, that we felt there was a good chance he would make it through waivers and we'd be able to put him on our practice."
Hayne seemed to understand the situation, and acknowledged the value of learning many of the fundamentals of football. As a member of the practice squad, he had a chance to get a lot of reps as a running back, but also in other positions as part of the scout team. He's not going to be a safety or linebacker, but practicing at those positions is valuable to his football education. For a player who had never played a down of organized American football prior to joining the 49ers, that is big.
Baalke also said that while the team has not spent a lot of time talking about individual players and their fit into Chip Kelly's system, Kelly is aware of Hayne's story, and is "excited to get his hands on him." Give the full interview a read here.