SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Running back Reggie Bush has been officially ruled out for Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, while receiver Bruce Ellington is questionable with an ankle injury. That means Jarryd Hayne will likely be called upon against the Steelers.
Hayne made his NFL debut in Monday's 20-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings, dropping his first ever punt attempt. Despite that, the 49ers have exuded confidence in Hayne, both as a punt returner and fill-in at running back behind Carlos Hyde.
"Everyone saw the first punt with Jarryd, but we thought offensively he kind of settled down just like any rookie and by the second half he was kind of executing and being himself, and we didn't really back off of anything on the call-sheet simply because it was Jarryd out there," offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said this week.
Hayne was forced into action on offense after Bush sustained his calf injury after his second carry in the first quarter. The former NRL star ran for 13 yards on four carries while adding a seven-yard reception out of the back field.
And after muffing that first punt attempt, the 49ers stuck with Hayne, giving him two more opportunties to field punts before giving the job back to Ellington. Head coach Jim Tomsula said afterwards he took Hayne off punt return duty to avoid further injury to a running back after Bush went down. Rookie Mike Davis was inactive, making Hayne the only available backup to Hyde.
Thursday, special teams coach Thomas McGaughey Jr. wouldn't specify on who would be returning punts against the Steelers. "We'll see," he said.
Davis will likely be uniform Sunday, making his NFL debut, where he's the leading candidate to spell Hyde. Depending on Ellington's status, Hayne could be in line to be the team's top option to return kicks and punts. Undrafted rookie receiver DeAndrew White, who was also inactive Monday, could make his pro debut if Ellington can't play.
Ellington missed much of the offseason and training camp dealing with multiple hamstring issues. Entering his first training camp as a rookie in 2014, Ellington also missed time with an ankle injury. He stretched with the team to start Friday's practice but came off the field to work with the team's training staff.
"I’ll find out today in practice and we’ll go from there," Tomsula said. "But, yeah he’s one of the crew (of return men). You know, you’ve seen the crew of guys that we use there."
Hayne, White, Ellington and Bush's preseason punt return numbers:
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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