The rookie Hayne, 27, started the season on the active roster as the team's return specialist, was demoted to the practice squad after muffing three punts in six games and was then reactivated for the final two games once running backs Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn were sidelined with injuries.
Whether Hayne will have an increased role in the run game under Chip Kelly remains to be seen, but the former Australian rugby star will get his opportunity to contribute under the new and innovative head coach in his second year, Baalke told Michael Chammas of the Sydney Morning Herald.
"We haven't spent a ton of time speaking about individual players on a roster yet but I'll tell you [Kelly is] well aware of Jarryd ... He's excited to get his hands on him, the whole coaching staff is,” he said.
Baalke also elaborated on the decision to waive Hayne on Oct. 31 in light of his struggles. He wasn’t contributing in the run game, with just 25 yards on eight carries, and couldn’t hold on to the ball in his primary role as a returner.
"In that point in time, we just felt he needed more time, he needed more seasoning and we needed some guys on the 53 [-man roster] that could be on the 46 that would give us the best chance of winning football games,” Baalke said, per Chammas.
By waiving him, the 49ers ran the risk of other teams scooping him up—as they did once he cleared waivers and signed to San Francisco's practice squad—but Hayne continued his development, practicing at other positions like linebacker and safety simply to enhance his football IQ.
Rarely do struggling rookie return specialists get as much attention—or merely a second chance—as Hayne has drawn, but his story is one that captured audiences from the U.S. to Australia given the rarity of international players with a background in other sports finding success in American football.
Despite the transition to a completely new staff, the fresh faces and minds may actually be a good thing.
The 49ers last year finished sixth-worst in special teams rankings, per Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, while Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles were sixth, and new coordinator Derius Swinton, hired from the Chicago Bears, anchored a unit that ranked 12th.
Hayne isn’t the biggest or fastest, but under a new scheme and with the conviction from his coaches, he could be destined for a standout sophomore season.