SANTA CLARA — Kick returns were one of the 49ers’ glaring issues following the 2009 season, as the team ranked dead last in the NFL in punt returns with a miserable 4.4-yard average, and 23rd in kickoff returns at 21.8. The return men fumbled 10 times, tied for most in the league.
Three newcomers — veteran trade acquisition Ted Ginn, sixth-round draft choice Kyle Williams and undrafted rookie LeRoy Vann — were expected to vie for the job(s), with holdovers Dominique Zeigler and Brandon Jones perhaps in the mix as well.
So why did someone named Bobby Guillory get all five punt returns against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and both kickoff returns?
Make no mistake, Ginn and Zeigler have been getting plenty of opportunities to field kicks in practice — nearly every day, in fact. But Ginn, the fourth-year veteran who has three kick returns for touchdowns in his NFL career, said he could use a little live-action refresher if he is to do this on a regular basis for the 49ers.
“You could be at practice and be with people on the Jugs machine all day and never get no work in with a live punt, and it could screw you up into a game,” Ginn said Tuesday. “You could practice every day on the Jugs, and probably won’t have the same type of realistic (experience) that you’d have if you were catching from a live punter’s foot.”
Coach Mike Singletary sounded unperturbed, but uncertain, about his return situation.
“We may try somebody else this week, but we’ll just see how it goes,” Singletary said. “We’re not overly concerned about the punt right now. I think we have a couple of guys — we have Ginn if we need to put him in there, and we may let him catch one or two before the preseason is over, just to get his timing down, just to get a feel for it. But I didn’t think it was necessary last week.”
Tell that to the hardworking taxpayers who watched Arnaz Battle stumble through punt returns a year ago.