When I first started thinking of position battles heading into training camp, kick and punt returner were not positions I concerned myself with too much, thanks largely to my confidence in Ted Ginn Jr. Three weeks into the preseason schedule, and my tune is changing ever so slightly, at least in regards to the punt returner role. I'm not prepared to completely flip-flop my belief, but I am finding myself further persuaded that it might not be so open and shut.
Williams has been the primary punt returner this preseason, with Ginn having one touchback and LaMichael James getting three opportunities. Ginn spent much of the offseason recovering from injury. This has provided Kyle Williams with an extended opportunity to work on his punt returning. He has been quite solid in that role, averaging 11.6 yards per punt return. That ranks 21st among all punt returners, and eighth among punt returners with at least four returns.
Side note: My favorite play of yesterday's game might have been Williams dragging a special teams coverage player about eight yards on his final punt return. The return was called back due to an illegal crackback block, but the strength on the return was pretty impressive.
With Ginn suffering an injury to the same ankle that cost him two games last year, one has to wonder if that could end up costing him a roster spot. If the team is comfortable with Williams back deep, it certainly could be possible. And while there are still question marks at the kick returner position, given the additional number of touchbacks with the kickoff yard line being moved up, maybe there is less concern with having Ginn back there returning kicks.
Williams has had a very solid preseason thus far. He's been very solid returning punts, and he continues to show burst in the open field. We saw it yesterday with his 46-yard reception, and saw it last year as well. When he gets the ball in his hands and some open field in front of him, Kyle Williams can haul.
I really have no idea what any of this will mean in two weeks when the 49ers are playing the Packers at Lambeau, or even in four days when they are making their final roster cuts. I still think Ginn makes the team and is the primary return man, but my confidence in that has diminished a little bit.