With Ginn gone, Williams and James among punt-return options

With Ginn gone, Williams and James among punt-return options
March 21, 2013, 2:30 pm
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With Ted Ginn gone, LaMichael James (left) and Kyle Williams (right) will compete for the full-time punt returner role on the 49ers next season. (USA TODAY IMAGES/AP)

The 49ers will have a new full-time punt returner in 2013, as Ted Ginn reportedly agreed to terms Thursday on a one-year contract with the Carolina Panthers.

Kyle Williams, LaMichael James and Perrish Cox are expected to compete for the job to replace Ginn on punt returns. Williams began last season as the 49ers' punt returner when Ginn was unavailable. Williams averaged 13.0 yards on four punt returns.

Ginn finished the season with a 10.2 average on 32 punt returns. Ginn reached a contract agreement with the Panthers, ESPN reported. CSNBayArea.com reported in February that the 49ers had placed a low priority on re-signing Ginn.

Perrish Cox was the backup on punt returns, but he was not used in that capacity. As a rookie in 2010 with the Denver Broncos, Cox returned averaged 2.3 yards on three punt returns.

James worked in practices all season on punt returns after struggling in the exhibition season with three muffed punts and a bobble. The plays did not result in any turnovers. James will have an opportunity to win the job in the offseason and training camp if he becomes more comfortable handling punts.

The 49ers might also might invest one or more of their scheduled 14 draft picks on a player with experience returning punts.

Bay Area native Julian Edelman, a New England Patriots free agent, is also a possibility. Edelman had a 15.5 average last season on 17 returns last season with the Patriots. When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked at the NFL owners meetings whether the 49ers were interested in Edelman, he told CSNBayArea.com that he would not comment on any prospective free agent.

James finished last season as the 49ers' kickoff return man last season. He averaged 29.8 yards on 14 kickoff returns. Williams averaged 27.2 yards on 13 returns, and Kendall Hunter had a 23.6 average on seven returns.

Both Williams (knee) and Hunter (Achilles) are expected to be ready for the opening of training camp after their season-ending injuries.

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