In a season marred with injuries, many have lost count on how many times the San Francisco 49ers have had to shuffle running backs—Shaun Draughn, who was signed to relieve the losses of Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush, suffered a knee injury of his own last weekend against the Bengals which put him on the shelf for San Francisco’s final road game of the season against the Detroit Lions.
To fill the gap, the 49ers signed DuJuan Harris from the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens, parted ways with Travis Cadet, and promoted former Australian Rugby League star Jarryd Hayne from their own practice squad just in time to make his first NFL start against the Lions. Despite the teams losing efforts, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula was impressed with what he saw from the 27-year-old rookie, Hayne finished the game with 27 yards on nine rushing attempts.
“I thought he represented himself well,” Tomsula said after the 32-17 loss to the Lions—a game in which San Francisco’s offense failed to score any second half points.
Hayne tacked on an additional five receptions in the final quarter of the game for another 20 yards. However, he was targeted by quarterback Blaine Gabbert during a crucial fourth down play in that quarter, where he was stopped a yard short of reaching the first down. For the game, the 49ers converted just 11.1 percent of their third down opportunities. Tomsula weighed in on the two-yard reception during the fourth-and-3 play.
“Jarryd has got to get to the sticks,” he said. “Jarryd has to run that route to the sticks. It’s just what has to happen.”
Hayne spoke after the game about how he felt after making his first start, and why he thinks he belongs in the NFL. He has enough faith in himself to know this is where he belongs, he said.
“I’m capable of playing at this level,” Hayne said. “Confidence in my own ability is something I have a lot of, and to be able to go out there and perform the way I did today, it shows.”
In total, Hayne saw himself on the field for 35 of 59 offensive snaps in the game. A large number when you consider just days ago, Hayne was still functioning as a member of the scout team on the practice squad. After being released by San Francisco on Halloween, and re-signed just moments later, Hayne noted that the time he’s spent on that scout team was very helpful to get him back where he is now. He agrees there is more for him to learn, but was content with his performance in the game.
“With the amount of reps I got on the (scout) team and kind of being by myself the past couple weeks on the practice squad, it’s been huge,” Hayne said. “To get that much experience, it’s invaluable because I’ve obviously got so much to catch up on.
“I felt great out there. There’s one or two things I could have done better, but overall I was happy.”
The 49ers announced no starting running back before the game kicked off, in fact, during the pregame, San Francisco announced in the press box that either Kendall Gaskins or DuJuan Harris would be getting the starting call. Hayne found out while warming up on the field during pregame that he’d be getting the first carry of the game.
“During warm up, I was told I was getting the first play and just run with it,” Hayne said. “I had a bit of an idea since Shaun was down. I just went with it and let it be.”
The 49ers plan to keep Hayne on their active roster for the remainder of the season—San Francisco has just one game remaining, their finale will be played at home next week against the St. Louis Rams. This means the 49ers will retain his rights moving forward into next season.
David Barclay is an NFL Insider for byteclay.com. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @DJamesIII