ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos got their first live, up-close-and-personal look this week at a player who has crossed the globe to take his NFL shot.
Jarryd Hayne, an Australian who was named the Rugby League International worldwide player of the year in 2009, currently leads the San Francisco 49ers in rushing in the preseason (117 yards on 13 carries, including a 53-yarder in the team’s preseason opener). He's also averaged a double-take-worthy 21.6 yards per punt return.
Hayne registered a 4.54-second clocking in the 40-yard dash at a workout for NFL scouts this past December, and some in attendance said following the workout that there was a place for Hayne in the league. He signed a three-year deal with the 49ers in March for less than what he would have made if he had stayed in Australia -- a little more than $1 million per year.
The Broncos saw Hayne’s potential Wednesday at a joint practice with the 49ers. They will see him again in practice Thursday and in Saturday night’s preseason game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“You could tell he’s real comfortable with the football,’’ Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “You could tell running the ball he looks real comfortable. He was catching punts … and running. He looks real comfortable. I’d like to think if you could play rugby, you could play football."
At 27, Hayne is a rare athlete who is leaving one sport to try another while still in his athletic prime.
“He’s returning the heck out of kicks right now, tough to tackle," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said.
Asked if he could make a similar switch and go from football to rugby, Miller said: “No, I play football. But if you can play rugby, it’s a lot more running and contact. You hit without pads over there. So, if you can play rugby, you can play football, in my opinion."