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Rookie P Pinion impresses in first game action for 49ers

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers have found themselves a new punter.

Now they just need to find a way to use him less. Either that or make him look better when they are using him.

Rookie Bradley Pinion was one of the 49ers’ top performers in their 23-10, preseason-opening loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night.

The only kicker selected in the draft in May demonstrated what elevated him above the collegiate crop in his professional debut, booming six punts for an impressive 48.8-yard average.

The average was sixth-highest league-wide among punters called upon more than once.

And Pinion definitely was called upon more than once. He kicked six times, during which he bombed 50-, 54- and 58-yarders in a field-changing display.

If there’s a problem with having such a powerful weapon, the 49ers learned in the preseason opener, it’s covering the kicks.

The Texans returned five of Pinion’s punts for a total of 64 yards, with four of the runbacks going 13 yards or farther.

Only one team allowed more punt-return yards in its preseason opener.

–Welcome to NFL football, Jarryd Hayne.

The plan was for the former Australian rugby standout, trying to make an NFL roster as a running back, to do a little of everything in his debut Saturday night against the Houston Texans.

And that he did.

Hayne rushed five times for a team-leading 63 yards, returned two punts for 24 yards and had a 33-yard kickoff runback.

The 49ers also threw a pass his way that fell incomplete.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Hayne, whose 63 rushing yards included a 53-yarder that set up the 49ers’ lone touchdown of the game. “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.”

The 53-yard run was more than one-quarter of the 49ers’ 199 yards of total offense.

–Concerns about the 49ers’ backup quarterback situation were put to rest in the preseason opener when Blaine Gabbert completed eight of his 11 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown in relief of starter Colin Kaepernick.

Gabbert directed four drives, with the first two producing all the 49ers’ points in a 23-10 loss to the Texans.

“I’m not surprised by that,” 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula observed.

Gabbert drove the team 99 yards in seven plays in his first action, capping the drive with a 10-yard scoring strike to tight end Garrett Celek.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, played only one series, narrowly missing a long gainer on a scripted bomb to newcomer Torrey Smith.

“Obviously, they wanted to (connect). I mean, we all wanted that,” Tomsula noted. “We are taking full advantage of this time to see where we need to (improve).”

–The highlight of the game from a team standpoint was a goal-line stand late in the first quarter when the Texans failed to score on seven consecutive plays from inside the 4-yard line.

The defensive stand led by nose tackle Mike Purcell, inside linebacker Shayne Skov and safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid featured stopping the Texans short of the goal line on six running plays.

A pass-interference penalty in the end zone on cornerback Tramaine Brock prolonged the sequence.

–Rookie first-round pick Arik Armstead played 46 snaps, tops among defensive linemen, after entering the game in the second quarter at left defensive end.

He was credited with two tackles.

Inside linebackers Nick Moody, who was starting in place of Michael Wilhoite, and Shayne Skov, who was replacing NaVorro Bowman, led the 49ers with nine and eight tackles, respectively.


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