HOUSTON -– The American football debut of Jarryd Hayne went about as well as could possibly be expected.
The former star of the Parramatta Eels in Australia’s National Rugby League did not look like a football neophyte on Saturday night in the first game of what he hopes will turn into an NFL career.
On his second rushing attempt in the Houston Texans’ 23-10 victory over the 49ers, Hayne picked the correct hole on a stretch play to the left side and rumbled 53 yards –- giving a glimpse of the size and speed which led the 49ers to give him a chance to make the transition to a new sport at age 27. Houston cornerback A.J. Bouye forced Hayne out of bounds at the 13-yard line.
But coach Jim Tomsula warned that Hayne is a long way from earning a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster.
“He absolutely has to battle to make the roster,” Tomsula said. “And I hope I’m presenting a very tempered approach to what happened tonight with Jarryd. There were things that went on and we still have a long way to go.
“The thing that excites me is the kind of person he is. You get into a situation where you’re rooting for guys, you’re pulling for guys. But it’s got to happen. And he’s one of those guys.”
Hayne was the game’s leading rusher with 63 yards on five rushing attempts. He also averaged 12.0 yards on two punt returns, and he returned a kickoff 33 yards -– from 7 yards deep in the end zone to the 26-yard line.
Hayne said he felt most comfortable returning punts and kickoffs.
“I think for me to out there and have a solid series, solid run, that was the biggest thing for me,” Hayne said. “It felt like a huge weight lifted. I put a lot of pressure on myself.
"I wanted to go out there, I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to go out there and look like a rugby player. I wanted to go out there and look like an American NFL player, and I feel like I did that."
Hayne definitely provided one of the pleasant surprises for the 49ers on a night in which they managed just 199 yards of total offense.
“It seems like everybody’s surprised,” Tomsula said. “I’m not.
“Quite honestly, I expected him to be very comfortable in space. I’ve watched a lot of film of him playing rugby. I’ve watched the physicality of his play in rugby. He never missed a beat when he put on shoulder pads. That was the first hurdle I was concerned about. He can play in space. He’s a premier athlete in the world in space.”
Hayne was able to make a play in space because excellent blocking on the left side. Left tackle Patrick Miller provided a good seal block, and fullback Bruce Miller “threw somebody out of the park,” 49ers backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert said.
“We were working a combination and really he made the play, ran a perfect course and put his foot in the ground and got vertical when he had to,” Bruce Miller said. “That’s what we always ask of our backs and he did a great job of it on that one. He helped us to make those blocks by his course, and the timing of the play. It’s nice to see that.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who watched the play from the sideline, said Hayne has done everything asked of him since coming to the 49ers in the offseason.
“Amazing,” Kaepernick said. “He went out there and played really well. He played fast, had a great run. Had a couple good punt returns. I think everyone was impressed with what he’s done.
“He’s making a very strong case, especially with what he did today.”