You know, the aspect of the 49ers that has garnered the least amount of discussion here at Niners Nation has been the return game. Whereas last season, it was essentially the focal point of a good portion of discussions. Last year we had Brandon Jones, Arnaz Battle, Nate Clements, Delanie Walker, Josh Morgan, Michael Robinson, Allen Rossum and, albeit accidentally, Kentwan Balmer returning kicks or punts. I might be missing out on someone, but suffice to say that the 49ers were absolutely abysmal in that regard.
So the team went out, traded for Ted Ginn Jr., a well-received move here at NN, drafted a couple guys with the ability to do so in Kyle Williams and Phillip Adams, brought in LeRoy Vann to no avail, and then ... what now? As Barrows noted a couple days ago, there's no "pop," in the return game.
The 49ers have not cracked the top twenty in either punt or kick return average and probably won't this year unless Ted Ginn really turns it on. When I see him back there, I don't see the same returner that we saw in Miami. Ginn trips and falls, he dives, and he certainly shies away from any and all contact. What happened to Ted Ginn? Where is Kyle Williams? Does Phillip Adams have any ability?
Ginn is Ginn, I think we need to keep him there on kickoffs, and the one good thing I can say is that, by playing it safe and not making big risks like he did in Miami, he's done a good job of protecting the ball. He's also pretty good with the trickery and deceiving when it comes to fair catching punts. Again though, there's not much to look forward to when the 49ers are going for returns, and that is most certainly not indicative of his usual play. Still, I like Ginn for kickoffs, at the very least.
What about Kyle Williams? He's banged up, sure - but is he still banged up? Williams was ready to go a couple weeks ago and we didn't see him anywhere. Returning punts in the preseason, for the one or two he was able, he looked pretty good out there. At this point, do we put him out there just for the fact that Ted Ginn isn't providing that much of a "wow" factor, or do we keep Ginn for his ball protection on punts?
Phillip Adams probably isn't an option any longer as he's dropped a couple, and keeping the ball is key. Still worth noting that he wasn't afraid to get hit out there. The last option would be RB Brian Westbrook, and I don't know how I feel about that. I guess I don't know much about him as a returner.
Lastly, let me say that our special teams blocking has been downright atrocious of late. I don't blame Ted Ginn for every time he falls down instead of getting slammed, because the Niners have been suffering big time without Michael Robinson. There is nobody directing traffic on kickoffs, which is something M-Rob excelled at. There is rarely a lead blocker who makes his block, and most importantly: not a single player on the kickoff team who demands a double team when it comes to setting up returns.
Tampa Bay has one of the better punt coverage units in the league, and a middle-of-the-pack kick return coverage unit.