The 49ers’ special teams coordinator said Thursday that Jarryd Hayne has the combination of fearlessness and lateral quickness all great punt returners seem to possess.
Still, Thomas McGaughey Jr., wasn’t ready to award Hayne a roster spot just yet.
“He has a lot of natural ability, but let’s ... we have to be realistic, too,” McGaughey said. “That was the first preseason game. So it’s not like we’re playing in Week 8 or 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.”
At same time, though, McGaughey conceded he’s been impressed with how eager Hayne, the former Australian rugby league star, has been to learn his new sport and with the moves he made against the Texans last Saturday night.
Hayne could have called a fair catch on both of his punt returns. Instead, he cleanly fielded the ball and side-stepped the first defender down the field. He also returned a kickoff despite being seven yards deep in the end zone.
Would McGaughey have liked to have seen Hayne take a knee for a touchback in that instance?
“We’ve got to find out what we have, and if we take a knee we’ll never find out,” he said. “... You obviously want to make smart decisions. But Jarryd’s fearless. And that’s one of the characteristics of what it takes to be a great (return man). He is fearless.”
Hayne likely will get more chances to impress this preseason.
One of the other candidates to handle punt returns, Reggie Bush, is likely to be lightly used in the upcoming games due to his veteran status and the 49ers’ need for him at running back.
The player who handled the job most of last year, Bruce Ellington, is injured and will not play Sunday against Dallas.
“That’s kind of my assessment of him – last year,” McGaughey said of Ellington. “Because I haven’t seen him much this year. Bruce, the couple of times he’s been out there, has looked really good. But I just have to get him healthy.”
Et cetera – Outside linebacker Eli Harold missed Thursday’s practice with an unspecified muscle strain that did not appear to be serious. Left tackle Joe Staley was given a “veteran’s day” off from practice. Rookie Patrick Miller filled in with the first-team offense.
▪ Tight end Vance McDonald had his second consecutive strong practice, catching two passes in the end zone during red-zone drills. McDonald and rookie Blake Bell started Saturday’s game at tight end.
▪ The 49ers will honor former Bay Area broadcaster Lon Simmons on Sunday before their preseason game against the Cowboys. A bronze plaque will be unveiled, which ultimately will be placed outside the 49ers’ radio booth. The booth will be named in honor of Simmons, who died in April at age 91 and who spent 26 seasons as the play-by-play voice of the 49ers.