Jarryd Hayne's captivating NFL debut last week against the Houston Texans impressed Thomas McGaughey Jr. This much is sure.
The San Francisco 49ers special teams coordinator made that clear on Thursday when speaking to the media, which included several Australian reporters who made the cross-continental trek. McGaughey described Hayne as "fearless" and said that the former rugby league star possesses "great lateral quickness."
But with those compliments, McGaughey also wanted to maintain a level perspective.
"He has a lot of natural ability, but you've to be realistic too here," McGaughey said. "I mean, that was the first preseason game, so it's not like we're playing in Week 8 – going down the stretch. He's got a long way to go. He's doing some good things and hopefully he'll continue down that path."
Hayne led all rushers in Houston with 63 yards on a five carries. He also returned two punts for 24 yards and a kickoff for 33 yards. But despite that early success, Hayne echoed McGaughey's remarks, acknowledging that he still has much to improve upon.
"Obviously, I'm far away from being a crisp running back," Hayne said. "Returning punts and kickoffs is what I'm most natural at, but I've got to work on my whole game.
"… From the way I run routes, to how I handle the ball, to picking up blitzes — there's a whole bunch of things I need to get used to and get better at."
Although Hayne's 53-yard scamper in the second quarter captured the greatest attention, his aforementioned work on special teams likely helped his cause more, as that is the phase in which Hayne potentially could contribute the most.
"It's fun when you see a guy that can make that first guy miss, and he's not scared because he's very, very comfortable fielding the ball," McGaughey said. "And when you have that fearlessness it definitely gives you an edge on your opponent."
Hayne hasn't played in coverage on special teams yet, but McGaughey thinks the first-year player has the potential to do so – he just needs more time to learn how.
"That's still a work in progress for him," McGaughey said. "I think he's used to having that ball in his hands and that's real natural for him, being able to make people miss and run by people and being physical with people.
"The tackling part of it, it's different when it's one-on-one like it is over there as opposed to a group of guys dropping back in an area and all of a sudden they're coming from all kinds of different angles. You have to know what you're looking at, and you got to know to how to key and diagnose certain situations. So right now he's just trying to learn that part of it as far as covering kickoffs."
As for the personal side of the transition, Hayne said he is well-aware of the encouragement sent from friends, family and fans back home in Australia.
"They are along for this journey," Hayne said. "They're ecstatic to not only see me play, but to see me do well. It's obviously a huge thing that I've done taking that chance. They find a lot of joy in it as well, probably more than me."