Matt Maiocco's 49ers Breakdown: Specialists
LaMichael James will compete with Kyle Williams for the opportunity to return punts for the 49ers this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Phil Dawson will take over kicking duties for David Akers, who missed more field-goal attempts than anyone in the league last season. (AP)
Editor's note: Insider Matt Maiocco concludes his position-by-position breakdowns leading up to 49ers training camp. The rookies reported Friday, with the veterans scheduled to follow on Wednesday. Today, Matt focuses on the specialists.
Who they have: P -- Andy Lee, Colton Schmidt; K -- Phil Dawson; LS -- Brian Jennings, Kevin McDermott; RS -- LaMichael James, Kyle Williams, Perrish Cox, Chad Hall, Quinton Patton, B.J. Daniels
Who they lost: K David Akers, RS Ted Ginn
Looking back: The 49ers went from owning one of the best special-teams units in 2011 to really struggling in the kicking game last season. Akers missed more field-goal attempts than anyone in the league. His missed field goals in overtime contributed to a loss and a tie in two meetings against the St. Louis Rams. And the coverage unit surrendered Jacoby Jones' 108-yard return in the Super Bowl XLVII loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Lee, as usual, was exceptional. His 43.2 net punting average was the No. 3 mark in NFL history. He set the league record of 44.0 in 2011. James did a good job after taking over on kickoff returns. His 62-yard return against the New England Patriots put the 49ers in position for the winning points late in that game. Ginn was solid on punt returns.
Overall outlook: The 49ers have made a concerted effort to strengthen special teams. They have one very good building block with Lee, a four-time All-Pro. They got rid of Akers and brought in Dawson, a free agent who had a big season with the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers have added a lot of players with special-teams value, including Dan Skuta, Craig Dahl, Raymond Ventrone, Kassim Osgood and sixth-round draft pick Nick Moody. In addition, defensive backs C.J. Spillman and Tramaine Brock are solid bets to make the 53-man roster because of what they bring to the coverage units. Ginn was the primary punt returner the past three seasons. He turned out to be very reliable, so the 49ers will have to find someone to take his spot.
Camp competition: James will be the deep man on kickoff returns. He has worked hard in the past year to become more comfortable fielding punts, too. James had a difficult time catching the ball during the exhibition season as a rookie. James and Williams will compete for that duty in training camp. Jennings is still considered one of the best long-snappers in the business, but the 49ers also really like McDermott, an undrafted rookie from UCLA.