SANTA CLARA -- Australian import Jarryd Hayne had the roughest-possible beginning to his NFL regular-season career on Monday night in the 49ers' 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
The first time Hayne stepped on the field, he appeared to misjudge a punt in a scoreless game in the first quarter. Then, he made a lunging attempt to snare Minnesota punter Jeff Locke’s wobbler. He muffed it, and the Vikings took over at their own 43-yard line.
But coach 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said his confidence in Hayne was not shaken. After all, Hayne proved himself to be the most sure-handed of the team’s return men during the offseason program, training camp and exhibition season.
“We put him out there for the next two punts,” Tomsula said. “He would have stayed out there all day.
“There’s a belief and a faith there. Play football, OK? And we have learning moments and we’ll learn from those learning moments. That’s it. OK? Next play, all right? Now let’s go back, own it, fix it and move on.”
The next punt attempt went out of bounds. On the third, Hayne fielded it cleanly and picked up 11 yards on the return. However, a running-into-the-punter penalty nullified the play. When the Vikings lined up to kick again, the 49ers went with Bruce Ellington.
“Usually, what we’ll try to do there is we will try to sub,” Tomsula said. “Whenever somebody re-kicks, we are going to try to get some fresh. That’s a normal deal. If we were punting and we had to re-punt, we’ll try to get new gunners out there.”
Hayne was removed from the return game in the second half when he took over as the No. 2 running back behind Carlos Hyde. Reggie Bush sustained a left calf strain in the first quarter and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Hayne finished with 13 yards on four rushing attempts, along with one catch for seven yards.
Bush’s injury is not believed to be serious, but it appears unlikely he will be available for the 49ers’ short-turnaround-game on Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 49ers are expected to activate rookie running back Mike Davis.
As long as Hayne serves as the 49ers' primary backup running back, he might be held out of his role on punt returns.