49ers need more explosiveness in return game

By Danny Dabiri  |   Sunday, July 08, 2007  |  Comments( 16 )

San Francisco 49ers
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The San Francisco 49ers spent the offseason upgrading themselves offensively and defensively, while the addition of proven players like wide receiver Darrell Jackson and cornerback Nate Clements could significantly improve the team's play on both sides of the ball. One area San Francisco did not choose to upgrade, though, is its return game.

The 49ers' ranked fourth in the NFL last season in kicks returns, averaging 24.1 yards per runback. The primary kick returner for the team last year was Maurice Hicks, an undrafted running back out of North Carolina A&T who averaged 25.1 yards per return in 57 opportunities.

The punt return unit was not as successful last year, ranking 17th in the league with 8.5 yards per runback. Wide receiver Brandon Williams received the majority of opportunities, averaging only 6.7 yards a return in 22 chances.

San Francisco did not have any punt or kick returns for touchdowns last season; in fact, the last return for a score came in 2005, Mike Nolan's first game as head coach. Fred Amey produced a 75-yard punt return for a TD that was instrumental in the Niners' 28-25 victory over division rival St. Louis. The team has since gone 31 regular-season games without a touchdown return.

It is clear that the 49ers could use more explosiveness in the return game. Hicks has been solid on kickoffs, but he does not provide enough game-breaking ability. The punt return unit is certainly in need of a boost, as it does not appear Williams is the long-term answer. Clements has returned punts in the past, but all indications are that Nolan & Co. do not want to risk an injury to their highest-paid defender.

The addition of Al Everest as the 49ers' special teams coach in the offseason should immediately benefit the return game. Everest was very successful in the same position for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2005, including being named special teams coach of the year in 2002 by his peers.

When scouring the team's current roster for potential playmakers, there is not much to get excited about. Outside of Hicks, Williams and Clements, only Arnaz Battle has any credible return history. The Niners still have two months to address that aspect of the team, and it's imperative they do. The league's highly competitive aspect means contests are often decided by a big play in the return game. Look at the impact Devin Hester had for Chicago a year ago, for instance. The Bears likely would not have won the NFC without Hester, now a second-year player.

Obviously, then, adding more big-play ability in their return game is critical to the 49ers' ultimate goal of winning a championship.

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CommentsComments: 16  |  Sign Up  View all comments
09:26 AM
Devin Hester had one of the most amazing single season return man performances in NFL history. Yet, he still only accounted for 5...
nyc niner fan
10:01 AM
Then niners have never put that much importance on KR and PR. Devin hester is one in 1000. Just catch the ball and don't fumble.
10:29 AM
Jason Hill has game breaking speed, and as a rookie won't expect to see much time with the offense. I think he is the most likely...
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