Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There were conflicting messages from 49ers coaches this week on Bruce Ellington's status as return man

Jim Tomsula responded to an interesting statement his special teams coach made this week.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Bruce Ellington's first quarter fumble on a muffed punt led to a field goal for the visiting Cardinals on Sunday. Ellington replaced Jarryd Hayne in that role earlier this season because of Hayne's fumble issues.

Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr. indicated this week that Ellington might be on thin ice should he continue to drop the ball, which he's done three times already this season.

"You put the ball on the ground again, yeah," McGaughey said when asked if Ellington was one fumble away from potentially losing his job as return man. "That's just the reality of what we do."

When asked about that same thing Thursday, Jim Tomsula said he hoped McGaughey didn't mean Ellington would be benched after one more fumble.

"I hope he didn’t say that. I would not want him to have said. I’m sure he didn’t say it like that," Tomsula said. "Bruce is our punt returner and we need to field the ball with the hands in the proper place."

Hayne remains on the 49ers practice squad, where he's been since Nov. 2 after getting waived three days earlier, leading up to the loss Nov. 1 against the Rams, when San Francisco lost two running backs to injury, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis.

Before getting waived, Hayne averaged 9.5 yards per return, while Ellington's averaged 7.6 since taking over. Hayne muffed his first ever punt return in the season opener.

With Hayne no longer on the roster, the most likely candidate to replace Ellington would be undrafted rookie receiver DeAndrew White, who's been active in four of 11 games this season.

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