The 49ers might have a punt returner problem.
When returning punts, Ronnie Bell has fumbled the ball twice in three weeks. Both didn’t result in a turnover. One went out of bounds during the Philadelphia Eagles game, and the other, his forearm hit the ground as the ball came out, saving what was a fumble return for a touchdown with the Arizona Cardinals.
Ronnie Bell still has a career to make, but his rookie season returning punts has not been off to a good start. In fact, his special teams in general has been uninspiring. In no way is this a signal of a bust, but two muffs in three games means a change needs made for the present.
Yes, both mistakes didn’t cost the 49ers, but they could have. Yes, two muffs when he’s filling in is a bit harsh, but the 49ers are trying to get their sixth Lombardi and both of those gaffes could have swung the other way.
Bell has been filling in while main return man Ray-Ray McCloud went on IR due to a rib injury. McCloud could return, but there’s no guarantees and the 49ers will need to figure out what happens in case McCloud’s injury continues deeper into the postseason.
Fortunately, it looks like the 49ers are working out alternatives. One Brandon Aiyuk was seen getting reps at punt returner this week
Brandon Aiyuk getting some reps returning punts pic.twitter.com/r0bOy40482— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) December 21, 2023
That’s one solution. We won’t really know until the 49ers play the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Day. As it stands, the 49ers need to find answers. If Bell remains as punt returner it could lead to something else.
Yes, having Aiyuk return punts is risky. Since he’s a starter and punts can be the equivalent of a car crash during the game, it may open him up for injury, but the 49ers need to find something that at least can generate some ball security. If not, they could find themselves with a mistake that does cost them.
Anyone remember Kyle Williams? When Ted Ginn Jr. went down in the 2011 season, Williams was next man up. Williams managed to not mess up one, but two punts, in the same game. Ultimately, those two mistakes were what did the 49ers in. Williams really shouldn’t have been returning punts after the first mistake either.
Do you think the 49ers have an issue with Bell returning punts? Or do you think they should stand pat with Bell until McCloud returns?