49ers review: Specialists

49ers review: Specialists
February 4, 2012, 8:12 pm
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This is the fifth installment of a nine-part series that reviews every 49ers player and position group.There's no need to look outside the Bay Area for the best group of specialists in the NFL. The kickers, punters and long-snappers of the 49ers and Raiders earned trips to the Pro Bowl. The 49ers opened the regular season with two returns for touchdown from Ted Ginn in the final minutes to help them get the Jim Harbaugh era off to a good start against the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers then got NFL-record performances from kicker David Akers, as well as punter Andy Lee and the coverage unit. However, the season ended on a sour note with two costly turnovers in the return game. Grade: A-
David Akers -- The 49ers' offense stalled too many times, giving Akers ample chances to kick field goals instead of extra points. Akers made an NFL record 44 field goals on the season, including 7 of 9 from 50 yards or longer. His percentage of made kicks was in the middle of the pack in the NFL, but in a season in which the 49ers won six games by 7 points or fewer, Akers was big. He made all four FG attempts in the playoffs, too. His kickoffs were outstanding, as the 49ers were third-best in the league with an opponents' average starting point of the 20.6-yard line.Andy Lee -- He set the team record with a 50.9 gross average, and Lee broke the NFL record with a 44.0 net average. Lee regularly had distance, height and accuracy on his punts. By angling most of his punts toward the sideline, he gave the coverage unit a better opportunity to avoid big returns. The longest return against the 49ers all season went for 24 yards. In the two playoff games, Lee had seven punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line and just one touchback. His net average was a 41.5 yards in the postseason.
Brian Jennings -- The 12-year veteran earned his second trip to the Pro Bowl, as Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy added him to the NFC roster as a "need player." It was another season of near-perfection for Jennings while handling all the long-snapping duties on punts and kicks.Ted Ginn -- It was an interesting start to the season, as Ginn accepted a pay cut of approximately 1.2 million to remain with the 49ers after the final cuts. The 49ers should've given him back the money when he returned a kickoff and punt for touchdowns within a 59-second span late in the fourth quarter to enable the 49ers to pull away against the Seahawks. Ginn ranked third in the NFL with a kick-return average of 27.6. He was fourth with a punt-return average of 12.3. Ginn was also sure-handed, as he was not responsible for any turnovers in the return game.Kyle Williams -- During the regular season, he returned just two punts -- both against the Seahawks late in the season for 41 yards. He also handled four fair catches. Pressed into service in the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants, however, his miscues accounted for two key turnovers. Those plays led to 10 points, including the game-winning field goal in overtime against the Giants. Williams' decision-making was not good. He unnecessarily made a diving catch of one punt. And then he failed to get away from a bouncing ball in the fourth quarter that glanced off his knee and was recovered by the Giants. On the fumble that led to the Giants' winning points in OT, he made the catch but failed to secure the ball in traffic and fumbled.