Jarryd Hayne hype is soaring skyward as the 49ers’ opener approaches. But the coach with perhaps the most say on whether the Aussie suits up Monday is doing his best to bring it down to earth.
“He’s new, he’s a rookie,” special-teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said Thursday. “Just because he’s from 3,000 miles away or wherever he’s from, he’s still a rookie in this league. Most rookies, unless you’re a top 10-15 pick in the draft, they don’t get that much hype. So we’ve got to kind of keep everything in perspective and understand the preseason is the preseason and right now is right now. This is real bullets flying.”
Because only 46 players can dress on game days, McGaughey and the rest of the 49ers’ coaches must figure out which seven will watch from the sideline against the Minnesota Vikings. They don’t have any injured players to help them make their choice.
The 49ers’ top two running backs are Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush. That means Hayne presumably is competing with fellow rookie running back Mike Davis to be the No. 3 tailback – and thus to be in uniform – against the Vikings.
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The conundrum seems simple: Davis is more refined as a tailback, but Hayne offers more bang on special teams, especially as a return man.
The 49ers were intent Thursday on keeping Hayne’s game-day status a secret despite several attempts by Australian journalists to get information about the former National Rugby League star who has dominated the sports pages in his homeland for the past month.
The team’s weekly depth chart is no help. It purposely lists Bush or Hayne as the first choice at punt and kick returner.
Mike Davis is more refined as a tailback, but Jarryd Hayne offers more bang on special teams, especially as a return man.
During Thursday’s practice, Hayne wore No. 44 instead of his usual No. 38, signaling that he was playing the role of Vikings backup running back Matt Asiata on the 49ers’ scout team.
That’s typically an indication a player won’t have a big role on game day. But Davis also is on the 49ers’ scout team this week. He is wearing No. 28 in practice, meaning he is the practice version of Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson.
Head coach Jim Tomsula said he has no worries about whether Hayne can handle punts in a regular-season game. The concern is whether Hayne has learned enough at running back to be able to perform at that position if he were needed in a pinch.
“Very confident in his ability to field a punt,” Tomsula said of Hayne, who averaged 18.1 yards per return in the preseason and who didn’t muff any opportunities. “But again, you start talking about the 46 – how much can you do, what can you do for the team?”
“With the schematic that we’re installing, how are you practicing within that scheme?” Tomsula continued. “The things that we’re practicing this week, do they fit your skill set? That’s where that all comes to in my head.”
McGaughey noted that he has a number of options when it comes to returner. Bush, who had two punt returns for touchdowns when he played for the New Orleans Saints and nearly a third against the Vikings on a “Monday Night Football” game, has said he wants the role this season.
Everybody’s flying the ‘Hayne Plane’ right now. But if you look at who led our team in punt returns in the preseason, it wasn’t Jarryd Hayne. It was DeAndrew White.
Thomas McGaughey, 49ers special-teams coordinator
The only 49er who handled a punt return for the team last season is Bruce Ellington, a wide receiver who, like Bush, promises to be in uniform Monday.
Then there’s rookie DeAndrew White. McGaughey noted that White’s 22.8-yard average on two returns this summer led the team, which is a reflection on both White and the blockers on the punt-return units.
“Everybody’s flying the ‘Hayne Plane’ right now,” McGaughey said. “But if you look at who led our team in punt returns in the preseason, it wasn’t Jarryd Hayne. It was DeAndrew White.”