Reggie Bush won’t make the trip to Pittsburgh with his 49ers teammates while another potential punt returner, Bruce Ellington, arrived for work Friday with an ankle sprain but did not practice.
Ellington is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report.
That means three youngsters with one NFL start among them will suit up for the 49ers at running back against the Steelers. It also could prompt the 49ers to turn to rookies in the return game.
The 49ers have two other players, running back Jarryd Hayne and receiver DeAndrew White, who can return punts. Both are rookies. Hayne, who was playing in Australia’s National Rugby League a year ago, was back for three punts in Monday’s win over the Vikings but muffed the first attempt and was later replaced by Ellington. White was inactive against Minnesota.
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Ellington also was the team’s kick returner against the Vikings. Hayne and White worked as kick returners in training camp and the preseason. Receiver Quinton Patton is another option; he returned one kick last season.
Bush strained his left calf Monday. The injury isn’t considered long term, and he said Friday he plans to be ready for next week’s game in Arizona.
Bush’s absence leaves the 49ers with three runners: Carlos Hyde, who started Monday’s game and rushed for 168 yards, and rookies Hayne and Mike Davis. Davis was inactive for Monday’s opener but the 49ers said they have confidence in the fourth-round pick, including when it comes to something at which rookie runners typically struggle – pass protection.
“He’s pretty solid in pass protection, and we’ll definitely need it this weekend with the various exotic blitzes that Pittsburgh runs,” Bush said. “But I think he’ll do fine. We have a good running backs coach (Tom Rathman) who prepares us week in and week out for the different looks we’re going to get.”
Hayne also was praised by coaches this week for his pass protection, although Bush said Davis is more refined.
“He’s obviously better at it than Jarryd because he played football longer, he has more experience at it,” Bush said. “But Jarryd’s doing well also. He’s coming along.”
Burned by Ben – Ben Roethlisberger, who is 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, has made a habit of shaking off blitzers and burning defenses with deep passes.
Just ask 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who faced the Steelers quarterback twice a year when he was head coach of the Browns in 2009-10 and once more when he coached the Jets. Mangini’s teams went 2-3 in those meetings.
The rule when facing Roethlisberger: Anytime you have a shot at him you’d better bring him down. Mangini said that’s something he’s talked about with his players, though probably didn’t need to discuss.
“As soon as you put on the tape, there’s plenty of examples where it’s reinforced play in and play out just by what he does – doesn’t matter who he’s facing,” Mangini said. “So you can talk about it, but them seeing the pictures gives them a pretty strong reinforcement as well.”
Mangini said he’s tried to coach scenarios in which Roethlisberger is able to extend a broken play but conceded it’s difficult.
“It’s so different than when you have to react to it at that speed against people who know where they’re going and have a good sense for the guy who has the ball,” he said.