Hopefully nobody takes offense to "special." I came close to posting a short bus graphic because that's how far Brandon Jones and Arnaz Battle have pushed me. As ugly as yesterday's game was, the biggest momentum change aside from Gore's fumble was probably the screwed up reverse attempt on the first quarter punt. The 49ers had the Seahawks on the ropes and could have sent them to the canvas on that drive. Instead, the drive doesn't even start and Seattle gets the shortest of fields to convert a touchdown.
As much as that reverse bugged folks, the special teams woes go beyond just that one bad play call. Special teams encompasses kicking, punting, returning, and coverage associated with all of that. For the purposes of this post, we'll ignore kicking and punting, because Andy Lee is God and Joe Nedney is sufficiently reliable as the kicker. Rather, I wanted to focus on the return game. I don't even know if you could call it a return game when you're either losing yards or fumbling the return.
Before getting into the ugly, I would like to say that I think Josh Morgan could be on the verge of entrenching himself as one of the team's primary kickoff return men. He's only returned 5 kicks, but he's put together a solid early body of work. His five returns have resulted in 174 yards, good for an average of 34.8. One return was for 76 yards, but his remaining four returns have still been solid enough. While touchdowns in the return game are great, it's really simply a matter of getting some decent starting field position. Thus far, Josh Morgan has done that on a consistent basis. The final four games will hopefully help us determine if he can become a long term return option.
The same cannot be said for the punt return game. I don't think it's even good enough to call it bad. At this point, the best term would probably be abysmal. Arnaz Battle did have a 31 yard return, but it was negated by a block in the back call against everyone's favorite pariah, Mark Roman. The 49ers final punt return numbers yesterday? 5 punts for -3 yards. Really?
I know people have been complaining about the release of Allen Rossum. While he was awesome last year, clearly the team saw a reason to get rid of him, and were somewhat justified by the Cowboys also releasing him. That's not the best reasoning, but it'll have to do for now. However, the point of this post is to consider how the 49ers can improve their punt return game going forward. Battle struggled mightily yesterday, but part of that was due to not getting much in the way of blocking in front of him.
I'm not arguing for bringing Battle back in 2010, but I also think there are other issues to consider. Rather, it seems like the team needs an influx of talent that goes beyond just the return men. Would that be a few low profile signings in free agency? Guys that excel in special teams work (aside from returners) tend to be rather low profile, so I can't see the signings generating a lot of buzz. Honestly, I'm not sure how the team can best go about approaching this in the offseason. Any thoughts?