SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Despite getting fewer opportunities than the first two weeks of the preseason Saturday, former Australian Rugby League star Jarryd Hayne received a strong endorsement from 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula.
"I watched a ton of tape of this guy fielding the rugby ball," Tomsula said Sunday. "I’ve seen him field here in practice. I’ve seen him field in game situations. So I feel very good about his abilities to field, I feel very good about his abilities to perform with a ball in his hands on special teams."
After averaging over 21 yards per punt return on five chances through the first two preseason games, the first-time football player was given just one chance at a punt return in Saturday's 19-12 loss to the Denver Broncos. Hayne took that return back 12 yards.
With the first wave of roster cuts coming Tuesday, when the 90-man roster is trimmed to 75, Hayne has a very real shot of cracking San Francisco's 53-man roster. But first, Tomsula wanted to get a look at Reggie Bush, Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White in the return game.
"As a group, we’ve got a couple of people working in that return room," Tomsula said. Bush made his 49ers debut after sitting out the first two exhibition games. He took one punt and returned it four yards and had one carry for 21 yards.
Tomsula indicated less playing time for Hayne in Saturday's game was not an indictment of Hayne's standing when it comes to making the team. Saturday he was given just two rushing attempts which went for zero yards after getting 13 carries the two weeks prior, including his 53-yarder in the opener against Houston he nearly broke for a long touchdown.
"I’ve seen what I need to see. I think we’ve done a great evaluation on him," Tomsula said.
Hayne is seventh in the NFL this preseason with 117 rushing yards on 15 carries. His 7.8-yard average ranks second in the league among players with double-digit attempts.
Fellow running back Kendall Hunter saw his first game action of the preseason Saturday after missing all of last season recovering from a torn ACL suffered early in 2014's training camp.
Hunter ran for 15 yards on seven carries as he tried to shake off the rust from not playing in well over a year.
"That’s his first live action back. I think (Hunter) did some good things," Tomsula said.
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