49ers put forth a solid defensive effort, shut down the Cowboys in their second exhibition

Purcell rambles

By Morris Phillips

Pre-season football was tedious as always on Sunday night, with two notable exceptions.

NaVorro Bowman made his much-anticipated Levi’s Stadium debut–19 months after his horrific injury in the NFC Championship game and the arduous rehabilitation that followed.

And the Jarryd Hayne saga continued to balloon even as the 49ers and Coach Jim Tomsula attempted to keep the whole thing under wraps only to have their efforts done in by another powerful straight arm delivered by Hayne.

The 49ers turned in an impressive defensive effort, whipping the Cowboys 23-6, and keeping them off the scoreboard until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.   The quiet night on the scoreboard didn’t sit well with the Cowboys, who are coming off a 2014 playoff appearance and wanted their play to reflect their ascension.

“Every game is an important game for us—pre-season, post-season, regular season, so we need to play better than what we did,” Dallas’ Travis Frederick admitted.

For the 49ers, who are a full season removed from their last playoff game, and coming off a tumultuous spring and summer filled with defections capped off with the abrupt departure of Aldon Smith, the home opener provided cause for optimism.  The 49ers’ youthful secondary led the way in that department picking off three passes, although none of the three came when starter Tony Romo or second stringer Brandon Weeden were in the game.

Colin Kaepernick got abbreviated playing time for the second straight week, completing 2 of 5 passes for 13 yards.  Blaine Gabbert followed Kaepernick and completed 6 of 6 for 21 yards.  If anyone stepped foot into the stadium looking for offensive fireworks, they didn’t get them from the 49ers’ passing game.  The team’s top three wideouts—Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jerome Simpson combined for one catch, and Reggie Bush, the pass catching back, was held out for precautionary reasons.

Tomsula had kind words for his reworked offensive line, which will have at least three new starters.  The group paved the way for the 49ers’ top three rushers—Carlos Hyde, Hayne and Mike Davis, who totaled 127 yards rushing on 23 combined carries.

Hayne, the Australian rugby player turned pro football neophyte, showed once again that he belongs, breaking off a 34-yard run that started with a straight arm and ended with a gang of Dallas tacklers at their 25-yard line.  Afterwards, Hayne spoke extensively about protection packages that will undoubtedly be the final step in his transformation to NFL football, along with an issue he had with his helmet visor as he prepared to field a punt.

Hayne finished with 54 yards rushing on eight carries, and afterwards fielded questions from an Australian reporter who called him a sensation similar to a vegemite sandwich.  But when Tomsula spoke of the 27-year old rookie, it became clear—without it being said succinctly—that the 49ers need to see more progress in the game’s nuances, and that they have great interest in retaining Hayne, but at whose expense?

The 49ers seem set with Carlos Hyde, Bruce Miller, 2015 fourth-round pick Mike Davis and Bush.  Beyond those four, Hayne would seem to be in direct competition with Kendall Hunter.  Hunter, who did not play Sunday, missed all of 2014, but was thought of highly enough that he received a contract extension despite his injury.  With all the euphoria surrounding Hayne, it’s highly unlikely that he could be cut, and then retained later on the practice squad.

Given the delicate nature of the final roster with respect to Hayne, Tomsula chose to focus on the players’ amazing story, instead of his prospects.

“Obviously the guy is doing really well.  He’s making a great case for himself absolutely.  And I think that’s the story in itself.  You’ve got a guy that’s never played the game and he’s come out to be in the conversation of making a 53-man roster on an NFL football team.  When you’ve never played football, now there’s the story,” Tomsula said.

Bowman could have played last week against the Texans, but the inside linebacker and the coaching staff felt it was better if he debuted in front of the home crowd.  Arguably, the best defensive player in the league in 2013, Bowman’s health going forward is of the utmost importance to the organization.  Not surprisingly Bowman was limited to just three snaps, meaning he spent much of his night fiddling with the knee brace that will–or will not–accompany him throughout the remainder of his career.

“I made a few adjustments with it to allow me to move my leg a little better, and I just wanted to make both sides happy, the trainers and me at the same time,” Bowman said.

On the injury front, the 49ers reported that Vance McDonald (ankle), Tank Carradine (leg) and Craig Dahl (lower body) all suffered injuries that are considered minor, but will be re-evaluated on Monday.

On Saturday night, the 49ers will be in Denver to face the Broncos at 6:00pm Pacific time.

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