As Jarryd Hayne drives past a security checkpoint and into the San Francisco 49ers’ headquarters in Santa Clara, California, on Monday (Tuesday AEST) he will notice a change in atmosphere.
Hayne, perhaps the NFL’s hottest new property and definitely the number one curiosity, has been making the drive to Santa Clara since April.
But, instead of the buzz of 90 or so team-mates in the locker room, the weight room or on the two practice fields adjacent to the state-of-the-art 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium, there will only be 53 players.
It might feel a little eerie to Hayne.
The Australian, as most of us know (maybe a few goat herders in Mongolia without wireless internet access are still clueless), on Saturday made the 53-man squad for the 49ers’ regular season, which opens next week against the Minnesota Vikings.
That was a major hurdle, but the serious work now begins.
Last week Hayne’s target number was 53.
This week it is 46.
That’s how many players NFL teams can take into games.
Hayne has to convince the 49ers’ coaches he deserves to be in the team’s game day 46, rather than be left in street clothes on the bench.
Despite the hype, Hayne’s skyrocketing jersey sales, his growing army of San Francisco Bay Area fans and the way the region’s newspapers and TV stations have focused on him rather than star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Hayne is not guaranteed to be in the 46 against the Vikings.
“The NFL can be an unforgiving business,” 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula warned.
“You are playing for your job every day, so it’s not like you make a milestone, you exhale and you’re there.”
Hayne likely sits at the bottom of options on the 49ers’ running back depth chart, with Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter and Mike Davis ahead of him.
Tomsula also warned that Hayne faces stiff competition as a punt and kick returner, including basketballer turned wide-receiver Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White, a two-time college football championship member with the University of Alabama.
“We have some guys at that position who are competitive,” Tomsula said.
Hayne, just like his even-keeled, do-the-hard-work approach to make the 53, is eyeing the 46 the same way.
In all of the hype, Hayne says people have forgotten the brick walls he has already demolished, including breaking into the Parramatta Eels as a 17-year-old, scoring 17 tries in his first 16 games, a year later selected in the Australian squad and playing nine NRL seasons.
He confidently says he understands the transition from pre-season to the regular season, whether it’s in the blue and gold of Parramatta or the red and metallic gold of the 49ers.
“The thing that cracks me up is when coach Tomsula is always telling me about the seasons,” Hayne told reporters.
“It’s like, ‘Mate, I’ve played professional football for nine years’.
“You know what I mean?
“It’s the same principles.”