Jarryd Hayne appears to have secured the San Francisco 49ers’ punt return job, but the NFL team is reluctant to also give him the kick return role.
Local media and 49ers fans have been calling for the Australian rugby league convert to take on both return jobs after his sensational pre-season form and 37-yard punt return against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The 49ers’ kick returner, rookie DeAndrew White, has had several shaky games, including fumbling the ball against the Cardinals.
This weekend the 49ers, after two large consecutive losses, host the undefeated Green Bay Packers led by the 2014 MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Not to say Jarryd can’t do it, but that’s not his strong suit,” 49ers special teams co-ordinator Thomas McGaughey told reporters on Wednesday.
“His strong suit is punt return and that’s what we are going to continue to make him flourish in.”
McGaughey said the two return jobs require different skill sets.
A punt return is made after the opposition’s punter catches a ball from a long snap and quickly boots it down field to gain field position.
A kick return comes when the opponent’s kicker kicks the ball from a tee placed on the ground at the start of the game or after a touchdown.
The 49ers say Hayne’s talent comes when he has space to move, which is more likely when fielding a punt.
“If you look at the space in a punt return, it’s a lot more as opposed to the space in a kick-off return,” McGaughey said.
“It can get real tight in a hurry in kick-off returns.
“That’s still something he’s still trying to get a feel for.
“I think his strength is punt return and that’s what we are going to do.”
Another returner, Bruce Ellington, has been out with an ankle injury the past two games and McGaughey said he was not sure if he’d be fit to play the Packers.
Ellington could slot into White’s kick return role if healthy.
Unlike recent press conferences where 49ers coaches focused on Hayne being a rookie and having a lot to learn about the NFL, McGaughey was full of praise for the former NSW fullback in his role as punt returner.
Hayne’s 37-yard return against the Cardinals set up the 49ers only touchdown and was one of the few positives in the 47-7 thrashing.
McGaughey said the only time he has seen Hayne drop a ball – in training or game situations – since he arrived in San Francisco in April came in their season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Jarryd is out best punt catcher,” McGaughey said.
“He fields the ball naturally.
“I mean, you saw the one he caught over his shoulder in the pre-season game.
“The first ball he put on the ground was the one he did in the game.
“Since he’s been here I hadn’t seen him drop one in practice.”