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Shanahan mentions a surprise option at punt returner with McCloud injured

Rookie Ronnie Bell comes to mind, as does wideout Danny Gray. But Kyle Shanahan mentioned one name that caught everyone off guard.

NFL: MAY 31 San Francisco 49ers OTA Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 49ers wide receiver group took a hit during earlier this week as Ray-Ray McCloud suffered a broken wrist during Tuesday’s practice, per head coach Kyle Shanahan:

“Ray-Ray broke his wrist last practice. It’ll be some time. We won’t know for sure until they go to surgery. They always say around eight weeks at that time. Could be a little less. Hopefully, it is. We’ll see. I think he’s getting surgery Friday.”

So, the optimistic view is that McCloud returns before eight weeks. Let’s act as if the timetable is eight weeks from Friday. That’d mean McCloud would be ready to go by September 29. But, assuming he wouldn’t play without practicing, let’s call it the following week, which is October 6.

Looking at the Niners schedule, that would allow McCloud to return for Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys. In an ideal world, San Francisco needs a return man for the first month of the season.

There will be a competition between a few players. Rookie wideout Ronnie Bell is one, according to Shanahan: “He’s done a good job. He’s a natural catcher. He’s comfortable back there, so he’ll have an opportunity to.”

Some have suggested that Bell gets a chance at McCloud’s spot in the wide receiver rotation. Shanahan said the rookie had some struggles early:

“He’s shown promise. Like most of these rookies, he has some good days, some bad. Struggled with a couple things early in practice today. Finished strong with that route over the middle in two-minute. But he’s got an opportunity, he’s got a chance.”

From my vantage point during last week’s practice, Bell had issues consistently separating against man coverage. On timing routes when the ball comes out quick, he was OK. His lack of a second gear was apparent, which is why Danny Gray has a better shot at earning wide receiver reps.

Gray, who didn’t practice Thursday, is more of a kick returner, according to Shanahan:

“He was sore today. So, we thought it was too much of a risk to go because we thought he would’ve got hurt so he didn’t have him go. So hopefully he should be better tomorrow. We try all our guys that return. Danny may be a little more of a kickoff guy than a punt return guy.”

That makes sense as kick returners are more of your linear athletes while punt returners are more agile and are better when asked to go side to side.

If the 49ers don’t have confidence in one of their skill players, no worries, there’s the do-it-all Kyle Juszczyk:

“Kyle Juszczyk is one of the most comfortable natural punt return captures there is, but hopefully we have a few other guys before our fullback is out there. But yeah, you can do it too. So it’ll be an open competition and it’ll be fun to watch.”

The returners during practice after McCloud were Willie Snead and D’Shawn Jamison. My money is on the undrafted free agent to win the returner job and make the roster.