49ers special teams: Unlikely Ginn will muff return chores

49ers special teams: Unlikely Ginn will muff return chores
July 10, 2012, 3:07 pm
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The competition on special teams this summer will not involve those players kicking the football. Rather, the main focus will be on those assigned to catch it.In the final installment of this nine-part series looking at the 49ers' offseason, we examine the team's specialists.Special teams
Andy Lee, coming off a season in which he set the NFL single-season net-punting record at 44.0 yards, signed a six-year, 20.4 million contract this offseason to make him the third-highest paid punter in the league.Kicker David Akers is also coming off a record-setting season. He established an NFL record with 44 field goals even if he did rank in the middle of the NFL (14th) in field-goal percentage among kickers with 20 or more attempts.Undrafted free agent Giorgio Tavecchio (Cal) did not receive a signing bonus to join the 49ers. His presence will enable the 37-year-old Akers to remain fresh throughout camp.Of course, two 49ers turnovers on special teams will long be remembered as critical plays in their exit from the playoffs. Veteran Ted Ginn, who did not fumble last season while handling 56 punts and 29 kickoffs, was out with a knee injury. And Kyle Williams took his place.Ginn tested the free-agent market but could not find a team that envisioned him as a major contributor on offense. He returned to the 49ers on a one-year contract. Ginn did not participate in any 49ers practices during the offseason as he nursed a right knee injury. Toward the end of the offseason program, Ginn looked to be nearing 100-percent speed during his workouts.Williams is in line to be back as Ginn's backup in the return game. Williams was at the front of the line in handling kickoffs and punts during the offseason program.Another player to watch is cornerback Perrish Cox, who is attempting to return to the NFL after going through last season unemployed while facing sexual assault charges in Colorado. The 49ers signed Cox shortly after he was acquitted in March.Cox lined up deep on kickoffs in the offseason and also looked reasonably steady fielding punts. As a rookie, Cox returned three punts for the Denver Broncos. After a muffed punt in an early season game proved costly in a Broncos loss, Cox was replaced on returns.Rookie LaMichael James will likely get a chance to return punts and kickoffs in training camp. Because of Oregon's late graduation, James was not eligible to participate in the 49ers' offseason program until after the team's mandatory minicamp.Rookie receivers A.J. Jenkins and Nate Palmer, neither of whom returned punts in college, struggled on the final day of minicamp as they tried to catch punts from Lee on a windy day on the Santa Clara practice field.Kendall Hunter and Chris Culliver are in the mix on kickoff returns.Special-teams coordinator Brad Seely will also set aside a few roster spots for players to help on the coverage units. Veteran Rock Cartwright and second-year player Colin Jones are two players whose hopes for roster spots are tied directly to their contributions on special teams.Two-time Pro Bowler Brian Jennings returns as the long-snapper. The 49ers will also have first-year player Kyle Nelson in camp. The 49ers have one open roster spot after veteran long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand struggled mightily during minicamp and was released. If you missed them, here are the other 49ers offseason reports:Quarterbacks: Alex Smith leaves no doubt after a strong offseason.Running backs: Finally, some help for Frank Gore.Wide receivers: Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree set the pace (and, folks, let's stop hyperventilating and give A.J. Jenkins some time to develop -- like a year or two).Tight ends: Does Delanie Walker see a reduction in play time?Offensive line: Alex Boone takes a strong handle on right guard.Defensive line: With starters set, 49ers are looking for more from backups.Linebackers: Aldon Smith becomes an every-down player.Defensive backs: Top passing teams will test the secondary early and often in regular season.