49ers training camp preview: Specialists

49ers training camp preview: Specialists
July 19, 2014, 7:00 am
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LaMichael James has a career kick return average of 28.3 yards per attempt and punt return average of 10.9 yards per attempt. (AP)

Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad will report on July 23, with the first practice day scheduled for July 24. This morning, Matt focuses on the specialists.

Who they have: K Phil Dawson, P Andy Lee, LS Kevin McDermott, P Colton Schmidt.

Who they lost: None.

Looking back: The 49ers turned the page on inconsistent kicker David Akers with the free-agent signing of Dawson. And the veteran turned in an outstanding season with 32 field goals in 36 attempts. He made 27 attempts in a row to set the 49ers record.

Lee had another outstanding season, as he ranked No. 1 in the NFC with a 48.2 average. His net average was 41.7 yards, as he landed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line with just nine touchbacks.

The biggest question mark on special teams was long-snapper Kevin McDermott, who won the job over reliable veteran Brian Jennings in training camp. A controversial move at the time, McDermott was never talked about during his rookie season. And that’s a good thing for a long-snapper.

LaMichael James helped the 49ers shore up the return game when he took over for struggling Kyle Williams at the mid-point of the season. James did a good job on punt returns with a 10.9 average.

Overall outlook: With Dawson, Lee and McDermott, the 49ers are set. The only intrigue will be in the return game.

Camp competition: James, a seldom-used running back, heads into camp as the front-runner to win the job as the 49ers’ return specialist. Rookie wide receiver Bruce Ellington might get some opportunities to showcase whether he can be a reliable option, too.

Perrish Cox, Devon Wylie and Quinton Patton will also get chances to unseat James, but it won’t be an easy task. During the offseason program, James looked as if he has vastly improved in the area of handling punts. James says he wants to be an elite return man, but he also wants to contribute more on offense.

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