One of the ways the San Francisco 49ers will attempt to get out of their losing rut will be to rotate players at several positions. Head coach Chip Kelly has mentioned in his weekly press conferences that rotations will be instituted at running back with Carlos Hyde being out, as well as at inside linebacker to keep the players fresher. In Buffalo they already had a rotation on special teams, working in Torrey Smith on a kickoff return.
Yes, you read that correctly, Torrey Smith fielded a kickoff in Buffalo. Losing CB Chris Davis and WR Bruce Ellington to IR has the team looking for replacement at PR/KR.
Smith fielded one kick off and was able to manage a return of 13 yards. He was also spotted practicing fielding returns before their previous Thursday night game vs. Arizona. Kelly was asked about this new development and here is the transcript of the portion of his press conference that involved it:
What is your situation at kickoff returner? Obviously WR Torrey Smith got a shot in there. Do you have a settled kickoff returner?
Well, it’s a couple guys. [WR] Keshawn [Martin] is back there. Torrey has been back there. Mike Davis has been back there. We’ve used [WR Quinton Patton] QP back there. So, it really depends on what return we’re running depending on who we want back there. Right now, there’s not one set guy I would say.
You’re just kind of mixing and matching trying to find maybe that guy?
Yeah, we’re trying to settle on a guy. We would love to settle on guy that you feel consistent that’s going to give you a great opportunity, but right now we haven’t found that.
Do you have to remind these guys about the touchback rule for kickoffs now that it’s 25-yard line rather than risk taking it out sometimes?
To remind them? I think they understand the rule. They’re a pretty intelligent group we got right there. So, they understand it.
Prior to the Buffalo game Smith had not been very productive in games this season. It’s possible that he just wants more involvement and this is a way to go about it. It’s unlikely that he will end up as the primary returner as it's the most violent type of play to be involved in, making it a risk the 49ers should be wary of taking.