If Australian smash hit Jarryd Hayne isn’t in a 49ers uniform Monday night, it may be enough to cause an international crisis.
“You know what? I’m aware of that,” said special teams coach Thomas McGaughey, smiling on Thursday when asked about the potential ramifications.
But head coach Jim Tomsula and his staff aren’t into foreign relations. They’re preoccupied with how to beat the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium.
Despite the progress Hayne has made in a short period, the former rugby star remains in the early stage of his development as an NFL player, as Tomsula continues to emphasize. For that reason, the Hayne Plane could be left in the hangar in the regular-season opener. Teams are allowed to dress 46 of their 53 players on game days.
ESPN, which is televising the game, and the NFL may have something to say about it. After all, 49ers’ co-chairman John York heads up the league’s International Committee. The game also will be televised nationally in Australia, and Hayne’s absence would affect ratings when the NFL is trying to make impact Down Under.
Will a football decision in Santa Clara trump the financial and popularity quotients?
“Obviously, Jarryd is a very talented young player,” McGaughey said. “He just needs to mature a little bit as far as getting experience, but he’s going to be a heckuva player.”
Tomsula remained noncommittal about who would return punts in the first game, Hayne’s primary duty in the preseason. What Hayne thought about his status also was a secret, as the rookie did not make himself available at the media session.
“Just like everybody that is a first-year player here, you’re into game preparation now, so you’ve got that aspect of it,” Tomsula said. “But we’ve also got to stay on the development side of it.
“There has to be those techniques, those fundamentals that have to stay on course, that have to stay on point. We’ve got to stay on that road. That first year for all rookie players, that’s the line you balance there — how much do you give them, how much you don’t give them, when is it time. So that’s just where that has to stay.”
Tomsula stressed the importance of kick coverage, an area in which Hayne still has a lot to learn at the pro level.
“I’m very confident in his ability to field a punt,” Tomsula said. “But again, you start talking about the 46 [active players]. How much can you do? How much can do you for the team?
“Then with the schematic that we’re installing and going through and talking about here, how are you practicing within that scheme? The things that we’re doing this week, do they fill your skillsets? So that’s where that all comes into in my head. On special teams, it’s OK if you catch a punt, but can you do other things? What else can you do on special teams?”
It’s possible if not likely that more than one player will return punts based on the score and field position.
In veterans Reggie Bush and Bruce Ellington, there are established options in the return game. Bush has carted back 98 punts in his career, although none were in the last three seasons. As a rookie, Ellington returned 23 last season.
In the preseason, rookie DeAndrew White averaged 22.8 yards on four punt returns. Hayne averaged 18.1 yards on nine attempts.
“Everybody is flying the Hayne Plane right now, but if you look at who led our team in punt returns in the preseason, it wasn’t Jarryd Hayne,” McGaughey said. “It was DeAndrew White. [White] is a heckuva returner. He’s a good young player. Like Jarryd, he needs to mature a little bit as far as experience, but he’s going to be a heckuva player.”