Special teams seemed like the 49ers’ best – or at least most exciting – unit during the preseason. That momentum, however, didn’t spill into Week 1.
Monday night’s game included a blocked field goal, a muffed punt, a running-into-the-kicker penalty and a touchdown return that was called back for an illegal block.
“It’s frustrating as hell,” special-teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr. said Thursday. “ ... Young guys make mistakes. And in a lot of those situations, there were young guys at the center of those mistakes.”
One of the rookie culprits was return man Jarryd Hayne, who muffed a punt in the first quarter. He was back for two more punts after his flub but was replaced by Bruce Ellington by game’s end.
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It’s frustrating as hell. Young guys make mistakes. And in a lot of those situations, there were young guys at the center of those mistakes.
49ers special-teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr.
Hayne initially left the game, McGaughey said, because he wanted someone with fresh legs.
Hayne ran back a punt 11 yards early in the second quarter, but the play was wiped out by a penalty. On the re-punt, the 49ers sent Ellington into the game, and he scored an 85-yard touchdown that also was called back because of a penalty.
Ellington remained in the game, McGaughey said, because he looked so good on his would-have-been touchdown.
So who will handle the job Sunday in Pittsburgh?
“We’ll see,” McGaughey said.
The 49ers have said Hayne’s flub did not influence their decision to remove him from the game. The former Australian rugby league star made an aggressive dive for a ball that had been knocked down by the wind, but Hayne lost control as he gathered it in. The 49ers do not want to curb his aggression.
“Everything we do is aggressive,” McGaughey said. “We coach in an aggressive manner. But obviously we want to be smart, too. We’re not going to sit back and let things come to us. We’re going to make some plays. But obviously in the process of being aggressive, you have to be measured and calculated and smart.”
Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst also said he was encouraged by Hayne’s performance at running back after top backup Reggie Bush left the game in the first quarter with a calf injury.
Everything we do is aggressive. We coach in an aggressive manner. But obviously we want to be smart, too.
“We thought offensively he kind of settled down, just like any rookie,” Chryst said. “And by the second half, he was executing and being himself. We didn’t back off anything on the call sheet simply because it was Jarryd out there.”
Chryst said if Bush cannot play Sunday in Pittsburgh, rookie running back Mike Davis, who was inactive against Minnesota, likely will.
Et cetera – The 49ers reached an injury settlement with Kendall Hunter, a deal that cuts ties with the four-year running back but would allow the team to re-sign him later in the season.
Hunter, who turned 27 on Wednesday, suffered an ACL injury early in the 2014 training camp and had not fully recovered when rosters were set earlier this month. The injury settlement means the 49ers would have to wait six weeks beyond the negotiated terms of the settlement before re-signing him.
▪ Bush was the only player on the 49ers’ injury report Thursday. He was held out of practice.
▪ Fans voted Carlos Hyde as the FedEx “ground” Player of the Week after his 168-yard effort Monday. Hyde led the NFL in rushing after one week.