Special teams is an area that be underrated and wildly overrated all at the same time. The Chicago Bears roll out Devin Hester and his home run potential, while the 49ers rolled out the quiet consistency of Maurice Hicks in 2007.
Early in free agency, the 49ers added Allen Rossum in a deal that I described as:
This falls into the "Whatever" category of signings. Hopefully he can make a nice little impact in the return game. While I understand letting Hicks go, I definitely will miss some of his big special teams plays. He made important stops and could set the 49ers up with solid field position on occasion when returning.
Now I won't say I'm a complete idiot, but I definitely think I was under-appreciating Allen Rossum. I think Rossum will definitely bring enough to the table as a return man. I didn't realize his total career return yards were as high as they were (13,269, good for #2 all time). My own fault for not doing my due diligence.
He didn't do anything spectacular in the exhibition opener, but I saw some things that make me excited when he steps on the field. At the same time, I can definitely see some plays where he leaves me slamming my head against my coffee table. I guess you have to take the good with the bad.
His kick returns were for 24 and 25 yards. On his first punt return, he caught the ball at the 10 and returned it 13 yards for a solid pickup. Of course on the next play he caught the ball at his 9 (with no hint of a fair catch) and gained nothing. As with any game breaker you're going to get some strikeouts along the way, but you more than make up for them with the homeruns.
Considering the current and potential future problems with the 49ers offense, field position will be huge. The 49ers finished 2007 19th in punt return average at 8.6 yards per return. Maybe we aren't getting the second coming of Devin Hester, but I think we can expect good things from Rossum.
I still wouldn't mind seeing some of the youngsters get a crack at returns in the preseason. Delanie Walker return 2 kicks, one for 40 yards and one for 20 yards. In his two year career, Walker has 4 kick returns. I wonder if we'll see any other combinations back there. As long as Nate Clements isn't returning punts I'm happy. We don't need any special teams injuries for our #1 corner.
So am I right to expect big things from Rossum? The last 49ers touchdown return was a 2005 Otis Amey 75-yard punt return against the Rams in Amey's first NFL game. I imagine that while special teams touchdowns have a lot to do with blocking, they also have some like behind them. Will the 49ers luck themselves into a return TD this year?