A number of weeks ago, the buzz was so overwhelming about an aspiring NFL player in training camp (who just happened to be a former Australian rugby league star) that I elected to whip together a short movement breakdown on a relatively unknown player who at one point had very little shot of truly making it beyond being just a ‘camp body’.
Unless you are living under a rock and/or don’t follow professional football at all, you probably know that as of this past weekend, this improbable player, Jarryd Hayne, made it through all of the cuts and is now an official member of the San Francisco 49ers. There he will further his development taking snaps in the San Fran backfield and returning punts/kicks (though it’s a pretty crowded depth chart at the RB position so he likely be primarily a return specialist if I had to guess).
Here is the link to read that original blog about Jarryd Hayne.
If you want to know the cliff notes version from the original, it basically reads that even though Hayne did have a great first game (he subsequently had a few other solid preseason performances since that writing), he still had a lot to learn about the movement nuances between his old sport and his new one.
Also within that blog, I stated that even though I was slightly critical and imploring people to pump the brakes, I was also hoping that Hayne would make the 49ers team as I felt it would help open some eyes in the NFL.
Just what kind of eyes would it open? Well, now that Hayne has made it through the rigors of training camp and has been awarded a spot on the 53-man roster for the Niners, let’s explore the landscape and try to answer this question.
First, is he just an anomaly?
It very well could be that Jarryd Hayne is an anomaly…a one-off…a rarity…and that if we extracted other international rugby league players from their teams and inserted them onto NFL rosters with little to no experience in the game of American football, they could very well be part of the list of guys escorted quickly through the door at the first chance that GMs could. However, I admit I also predicted that would happen with Hayne.
If you’ve watched Hayne at all, there should be little doubt that he is a bit of a specimen…but from the limited rugby league (and rugby union) play that I have witnessed, there are other guys that are also very athletic who possess movement skills & qualities that could transfer very well to the gridiron. So, if I had to go out on a limb, I would say that though he is impressive, I don’t necessarily believe he is a freak of nature per se (and much of what he is able to do on field is likely due to his preparation up to this point).
Thus, what likely will be “learned”?
NFL coaches, general managers, and decision makers are notorious for forming the NFL as a copycat league: one where it’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’ (as long as the original monkey was successful that is).
Additionally, it’s been said that if you can play, they will find you (Note: ‘they’ being NFL scouts).
And when they find you, you will get an opportunity. Talent isn’t hanging out everywhere…but you can find it anywhere!
We already have seen numerous cases of guys like Antonio Gates (only played basketball in college) and Tony Gonzalez (only played 1 year of football in college) who were plucked from their predominant sport to go onto have very successful careers in the National Football League (Hall of Fame worthy even).
This has led to NFL scouts to look under nearly every nook & cranny to grab onto a project player who may turn into the next big thing. But yet this particular instance feels a little different. The Jarryd Hayne experiment turning successful means there could be an enhanced opportunity for every international rugby league player to be looked at as the “next” Jarryd Hayne. I think it’s safe to say that NFL team scouts will routinely start watching these guys play more & more.
Thus, what I think will likely be learned by those in the NFL is… “We” need only to continue to expand our talent ID efforts and we, too, can come across the “next” Jarryd Hayne.
What else should be learned?
In case you were counting, there are 1,696 players in the League (32 teams each with 53-man rosters). But this number was cut down from 2,880 players at the start of training camps just six weeks ago (90 guys per team).
I am no genius…instead; I try to rely on some simple logical reasoning at times. So, let me get this straight: an athlete who doesn’t know anything about the game but who IS blessed with physical gifts and happened to hit the sperm lottery in his own respect (but really no more than the other players in the League if you’ve ever been near any of them), is able to beat out 1,184 guys who all have played a great deal of football more than he has?!
I am by no means implying that he shouldn’t have made the team (and beat these other guys out for roster spots in the process) or that he doesn’t deserve what he’s gotten; he most definitely does. And his upside is that he is going to continue to get much better each week as he does acquire greater football-specific skill and things really begin to click for him.
However, what I am saying is this…it all just doesn’t add up…for those involved in the development of those other 1,184 guys and the thousands of others who were also gifted with physical prowess AND who had a lot of experience playing football at a high level (college and some varied amount of professional ball).
Are SOME of the movement skills and physical qualities transferable between some rugby codes and American football? Yes, absolutely.
But, if a guy can waltz in there and can beat out these other football players that have been preparing for this their whole life…and if I happened to be a person who has been involved in their preparation for their performance on the field…I would be hardcore baffled as to how this can happen?! I mean…if I were to be one of those people, how can I let that happen?!
On top of that…theoretically, if there are others like Jarryd Hayne out there who will be “next” to beat out other seasoned true football players (which remains to be seen but as I said above I predict it will happen)…then, that should lead all of us to question what we are doing in this country in the traditional football preparation means & methods that we employ.
A few related questions (almost rhetorical at this point) pop into my mind….
Are we missing the boat on some things?
Is it possible that we not enabling our athletes to realize their full potential on-field?
Can we learn anything from how they are preparing rugby league players (and other rugby codes) internationally that can and should be applied here in this country with American football preparation?
What then do we need to change of those things that we may traditionally hold near & dear to our hearts in American football that may actually be short-changing our athletes?!
If you are involved in American football preparation I implore you to constructively and critically think about some of the thoughts I posed today as well as your answers to these above questions. Don’t just take offense to them…actually think about them in an honest fashion!
And while you do that, feel free to sit back and marvel when Jarryd Hayne returns a punt to the house while equally juking guys and running them over in the process…but when he does so, just be sure to think about what it may mean to you and the preparation methods you employ with your American football players.
As I concluded last time, I am rooting for Hayne to excel. I just hope if…err okay, when (I don’t want my Australian peers getting upset with me)…he does, that those in the National Football League will look further than the many talent identification & talent mining opportunities that exist and will instead also dive into what we should be doing differently here in our preparation approaches.