SANTA CLARA –- Australia import Jarryd Hayne is such a natural on punt returns, he does not even need to see the ball to catch it.
Hayne made an remarkable over-the-shoulder catch of a 66-yard punt Sunday night and turned it into 27-yard return in the first quarter of the 49ers’ 23-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the second exhibition game for both teams.
But that wasn’t the half of it.
After the Cowboys’ game-opening three-and-out, Hayne put on his helmet to go onto the field. But he noticed a smudge mark on the shield inside his facemask that would have made tracking the ball nearly impossible.
He hurriedly grabbed a towel to wipe away the mark, but was rushed and slightly discombobulated as he was late getting into position to field Chris Jones’ punt.
“As soon as the ball went up, I lost it straight away,” Hayne said. “As a punt returner, you need to get the read as early as you can. And I’ve lost the ball and couldn’t see it.”
Hayne had to turn and run about 15 yards back from his initial starting point to make the fingertips grab with his momentum carrying him the wrong way.
“I literally just put my hands out and hoped it landed in my hands,” Hayne said. “I actually thought it would roll off backward because of how much ground I had to cover.”
Hayne shifted his momentum, worked his way across the field and ended up with a 27-yard return. Hayne again showed his lateral quickness to avoid tackles while also fashioning his stiff arm -- known as a "fend" or "palm" in rugby league. He also had returns of 34 and 23 yards for an impressive 28.0 average.
On offense, he was the 49ers’ leading rusher for the second week in a row. He gained a game-high 54 yards on eight rushing attempts, including a 34-yarder on a third-and-2 play in the third quarter.
“I’m still a long way off from where I want to be,” Hayne said. “I want to be able to go into games confident that everything I do, I’m comfortable with. I’m still learning. It’s only my second game. It’s still very fresh. For me, I’m just taking in as much as I can and trying to get better every game.”
Hayne, 27, appears to be in strong position to make the 49ers’ 53-man roster after announcing 10 months ago he was leaving his career as a star in Australia’s National Rugby League to pursue a job in the NFL.
“Obviously the guy is doing really well and making a great case for himself,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “That’s the story. He’s never played the game and is in the conversation to make the 53-man roster. That’s the story. That speaks to who he is.”