49ers Rookies Deliver Strong NFL Debuts in Houston

In his first NFL game, Jarryd Hayne led all rushers with 63 yards, returned a kickoff 33 yards from the back of the end zone and recorded two exciting punt returns for a total of 24 yards.

Not bad for someone who less than a year ago was playing an entirely different sport on another continent.

"I felt a huge weight lifted," Hayne said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to go out there and fit in.

"I didn't want to go out there and look like a rugby player. I wanted to look like an American NFL player, and I felt I did that."

The Australian import provided the longest play of the night for the San Francisco 49ers when he broke off a 53-yard run early in the second quarter on his second handoff.

Fullback Bruce Miller led the way for Hayne with a stellar block to set the edge. Left tackle Patrick Miller (who replaced Joe Staley) and left guard Alex Boone also pitched in to spring Hayne, who hit the hole hard and broke into the secondary. Only a Houston Texans defender tripping him up at the 13-yard line stopped Hayne from scoring.

"I didn't get to the end zone, which is obviously disappointing because it's what I was aiming for, but for me to just get out there and have a solid series, a solid run, that was the biggest thing for me," Hayne said.

Earlier in the possession, Hayne successfully picked up a blitz to allow Blaine Gabbert to find Blake Bell for a completion. After the 49ers ended the drive with a Garrett Celek touchdown, Hayne's teammates congratulated the newcomer with hugs and high-fives.

"He's a beast," Celek said. "For as much improvement as he's made since (spring workouts), it's incredible. He's going to keep getting better and better."

Added Colin Kaepernick: "He went out there and played really well. He played fast, had a great run, had a couple good punt returns. Everyone was impressed with what he's done."

Jim Tomsula was equally excited for Hayne, but he wants to see the runner keep improving throughout the preseason.

"He absolutely has to battle to make the roster. I hope I'm presenting a very tempered approach to what happened tonight with Jarryd," Tomsula said. "There were things that went on and we have a long way to go.

"The thing that excites me is the type of person he is. You get into a situation you're rooting for guys, but it has to happen, and he's one of those guys."

As for the rest of the 49ers rookies…

First-round pick Arik Armstead entered the game in the final minutes of the first half. He moved around the defensive line, playing both left and right defensive tackle. Armstead was credited with two tackles, but he was also called for a holding. On the penalty, the lineman recognized the running back coming out of the backfield for a screen and took the foul to avoid getting beat.

Second-rounder Jaquiski Tartt showed the power his punch packs. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the safety shot the B gap and tackled running back Kenny Hilliard in the backfield for a four-yard loss. Tartt finished the night with six tackles.

Third-rounder Eli Harold came off the bench to replace starter Ahmad Brooks for the second defensive series of the night. The linebacker looked impressive when rushing the passer, tallying two quarterback hits. He nearly had a sack as well, but the quarterback escaped his grasp.

Fourth-round pick Blake Bell was the only rookie 49ers player to start on Saturday. The tight end caught both of the passes thrown his way, accumulating 15 yards.

Fellow fourth-rounder Mike Davis carried the ball three times for 18 yards. He displayed shiftiness and the ability to break arm tackles.

Fifth-round pick Bradley Pinion punted six times for an average of 48.8 yards. His long went for 58 yards. All of his kicks featured plenty of hang time for his fellow special team players to run down the field.

Trent Brown and Ian Silberman got plenty of reps on the offense line with the starters being lifted early in the first quarter.

Other rookies who landed on the stat sheet: wide receiver DeAndrew White caught one pass for three yards and returned two kickoffs for an average of 19.5 yards, Marcus Rush had three tackles and Nigel King and Mylan Hicks had one tackle each.

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