Monday, 24 August 2015

Hot Sport Newz~! 24/08/15

In this edition:

  • Five things about Jarryd Hayne in the NFL

By now almost everyone has seen the three returns, one rushing play and the tackle from Jarryd Hayne's second pre-season appearance.

If you haven't, they are all available HERE.

This is no longer a story just for parochial Aussies, it is now a widely held belief that Hayne will make the final roster for the San Francisco 49ers and possibly even be their number one kickoff and punt return option.

Here's five things we have learnt so far from Hayne's remarkable transition.

1. Efficiency versus Instinct

The NFL is a highly specialised game - each player has an exact role within a particular play, which must be done with precision for the play to succeed. There isn't a lot of need for improvisation, other than perhaps at quarterback. Improvisation would mostly be detrimental to overall team success.

This is where Hayne's instinct developed by playing what is in front of him in rugby league could be a great asset as a kick returner. Returning a kickoff or punt is one of the few non-quarterback situations where a player in NFL gets to make an instinctive read.

Your typical NFL kick returner is normally a bench-warming wide receiver or defensive end, They do not spend their lifetime practising catching kicks like a rugby league fullback. They mostly try to avoid making catches altogether, and when they do make catches, they try to avoid running it back.

Hayne has probably made more catches and returns in any one month of his NRL career than a kick returner will in an entire NFL season. And in the NRL, the defense challenges on many catches, and there are no blocking schemes to clear a path for a run. With this background, Hayne has potential to cause problems for opposing NFL teams.

2. NFL Players Aren't Good At Tackling

The NFL is very physical, but it is also very different from rugby league. Most of the physicality is close contact, and tackling relatively stationary players. Even when a player makes a big play, the play tends to gravitate towards the sidelines. Positioning and body collisions are used to stop the run by removing space from the attacker, rather than more than traditional rugby-style cover tackles.

The NFL doesn't place much emphasis on proper tackling, and it shows. When Hayne cuts through on his major plays, some of the attempts to tackle him are poor.

The fact Hayne is so used to physical contact is also a big advantage. His fend has always been good, but the way he's brushing off NFL players with the "stiff arm" you'd think it was a signature play.

3. But He Still Has a Lot to Learn

It's all very exciting but most of Hayne's opponents are other players also struggling to make final squads. Hayne has shown great early promise, and probably already exceeded any informed expectations, but there is still a lot of hard work required for him to succeed in the NFL.

A big thing Hayne needs to learn is to pick his spots, and curb his instincts on occasions.

He should be looking to catch and run in more situations than other return players in the NFL, as based on his background and skills, he could do so productively in situations where it might be too risky for a converted defensive end. However, this doesn't mean he should always catch and run.

As a rugby league fullback, Hayne didn't always take on teams. For example, sometimes he would pick up a grubber in-goal, pick it up and run it back, and other times he'd bat it across the dead-ball line as a safe option. As an NFL player, he will need to learn to make similar assessments - avoiding trying a return in a sub-optimal situation, by letting the ball bounce or calling for a fair catch.

Hayne also needs to make better decisions when he breaks through. On the end of each of a few of his highlight reel runs, there is an opportunity for him to step over the sideline. He instead tries to cut inside and takes a hard tackle. In none of these situations is it likely he'll get much further by staying in the field - it's probably only worth a yard or two at best.

He will have to learn to protect his body (and the ball) better in those situations by minimising contact.

Hayne has enough speed but he apparently also needs to run less upright. I can see the difference compared to other running backs, although I'm not going to pretend I understand why it's important. I just note it as a further example that he is still a work-in-progress.

4. Versatility and Trick Play Potential

In the pre-season, Hayne hasn't just returned kicks and been a featured running back. He also appeared on the special teams defense once, making the tackle.

I can think of one player last season that played both sides of the ball, even in a limited capacity, and that was JJ Watt - widely considered the best player in the NFL.

So it is unlikely Hayne will make many tackles, but his unique rugby league skillset does mean that once he makes the final roster, an adventurous team could look to develop some offensive plays around his talents. They probably won't, because NFL teams are very conservative and risk averse. But I would love to see him throwing a spiral "lateral" pass to another receiver or something. 

5. Other NRL Players Making the NFL?

Could other players do what Hayne has done?

I think it's unlikely. The NRL is not going to need to worry about some mass exodus, and nor will the NFL be sending dozens of scouts to club matches.

There aren't many players with both Hayne's exceptional physical abilities - size and speed - coupled with tremendous rugby league skills. The only obvious name is Greg Inglis. Perhaps Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. 

They would then have to couple their natural talents with serious commitment.

Hayne is a relative overnight sensation in the NFL, but it's not like he just rocked up. He was considering the switch for two years, including training in secret with a university team in Sydney. He then hired a sprint coach and has seemingly tried to bridge his gap in experience through working harder than most of the other pros. He has an obvious passion for the game.

If other rugby league players make the leap to the NFL, it will likely be as teenagers, and following four years of college. Because even if Hayne is making the transaction look easy, it reflects more on his remarkable talents than the NFL being easy.

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