San Francisco 49ers

Man-to-man: Tomsula had tough talk with Ellington about nagging injuries

San Francisco 49ers' Bruce Ellington (10) is tackled by San Diego Chargers' Kavell Conner, top, and Denzel Perryman (52) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015.
San Francisco 49ers' Bruce Ellington (10) is tackled by San Diego Chargers' Kavell Conner, top, and Denzel Perryman (52) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. AP

SANTA CLARA -- Receiver Bruce Ellington, who noted on Saturday that he still was struggling to get out of fourth gear, was running at peak level Thursday.

"Yeah, I think I hit fifth tonight," he said afterward.

Ellington led all receivers with three catches for 86 yards, including a catch and run on the third play of the game in which he sprinted past the Chargers secondary for a 70-yard score. He also had a 60-yard punt return in the opening quarter that was called back because of penalty.

Ellington played both football and basketball at the University of South Carolina, and on some days during the spring he left one sport's practice so that that he could take part in the other’s. Despite that background, coach Jim Tomsula said he had to have “a man’s conversation” with Ellington this offseason about taking better care of his body, including stretching before and after practice and taking advantage of other maintenance measures the team offers.

“I didn’t feel that he was doing that,” said Tomsula, who added he “wasn’t a gentleman” during their chat.

Ellington dealt with an ankle injury during training camp as a rookie last year and suffered hamstring injuries -- both plagued him at times -- this offseason. He missed most of training camp as a result and only recently felt like he was back to normal.

Said Ellington: "Coming in, I thought I was young and I don't need to stretch. I thought I could just go out there and run. But I realize that I can't. I've got to take care of my body."

Both of quarterback Dylan Thompson's touchdowns went to former South Carolina teammates. He had a 16-yard strike to tight end Busta Anderson, a fellow rookie, in the fourth quarter.

"Five yards down field, and he turns it into 70 (yards)," Thompson said of Ellington. "People back home on the game tracker see a 70-yard touchdown and think you threw it a long ways. But Bruce is a great player. We ran that play in college and it's cool that he's familiar with it. Before we broke the huddle, I said, 'Man, be ready.' And it was (there), and he made a great play."

Practice makes perfect -- Tomsula said he decided sit out the vast majority of his starters because he felt that the 45 or so plays they could run in practice on Wednesday and Friday of this week were more beneficial than the handful of snaps they would have taken on Thursday.

Asked why he bypassed both Colin Kaepernick and his backup, Blaine Gabbert, and started Thompson instead, Tomsula said, "We've played Blaine Gabbert a lot. And we've evaluated him."

Tomsula also noted that he and his assistants still were evaluating the team's backup offensive linemen and that he didn't want to risk an injury to a starter.

"Everybody's got a story that could scare you," he said of preseason injuries. “But you never want to coach with a dull blade.”

The 49ers escaped the preseason with few injuries. Tomsula said there were none to report coming out of Thursday's game.

Hayne's hit is a hit -- One of the highlights of the game was the blow running back Jarryd Hayne delivered on Chargers cornerback Lowell Rose at the end of a 12-yard catch and run.

The former Rugby League star had received plenty of advise -- and concern -- about making sure he lowered his pad level upon contact with defenders. When he encountered Rose, he dropped his shoulder and knocked the cornerback backward two yards.

"Our coaches are always (talking) about lowering our shoulders, you know, getting ready for contact," he said. "So it was just a situation that, all that training, all the hours on the field, (it was nice) to finally see it come together."

Asked about the hit Hayne had on the Chargers cornerback, Tomsula said, "I’m not going to disrespect another player, but Jarryd is a tough guy."

Hayne's family flew in from Sydney and were in the stands for the game. Hayne led all rushers with 10 carries for 58 yards and he also had a tackle on special teams.

Hayne finished the preseason with 175 rushing yards, which was second best behind Detroit running back Zach Zenner’s 183 yards. Hayne’s 7-yard-per-carry average, however, topped Zenner’s 5.2-yard average and was the best of the top 25 runners this preseason.

53 cut down -- The 49ers are expected to begin making final roster cuts on Friday. They must reach the 53-man limit by 1 p.m. Saturday and can begin building a 10-man practice squad the following day.

Tomsula would not reveal any of his final decisions, such as which cornerback will start opposite Tramaine Brock.

"Everything will be clear cut right after the weekend," he said.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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