Rookie 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky turning heads with his kicks
Mitch Wishnowsky on Thursday boomed a punt toward one of the most successful return men in college football history.
The ball didn’t spiral. It revolved sideways like a game of “Spin the Bottle.” It danced in the air, even knuckling slightly, and 49ers receiver Dante Pettis — who set a college record with nine punt-return touchdowns at Washington — reached for it and it bounced off his hands.
It seemed like the unique rotation of the ball was all part of the rookie punter’s plan. After all, he’s been lauded for having a number of “clubs in his bag,” which is another way of saying different ways to punt designed to accomplish different things.
“That was a bit of a shank. A mis-hit,” Wishnowsky admitted Friday, drawing laughter from reporters. “I’ll take it, though.”
Wishnowsky, a native of Perth, Australia, is entering his first NFL season with high expectations. As a fourth-round pick, he was the earliest punter drafted since 2012. Ramping up the pressure, he’s joining a team coming off a 4-12 season that perhaps had more pressing roster needs elsewhere, which caused many to raise eyebrows when he was taken at that spot in April’s draft, going 110th overall.
He’s already gotten the attention of his teammates during training camp, particularly those trying to return his punts, who have noted how hard some can be to catch — particularly on the team’s practice field that can have gusty conditions.
Wishnowsky wouldn’t say exactly how many different punts he’s working on. But he did note he’s still trying to improve his overall consistency as he weighs the risk versus reward of each variation.
“Those balls can be harder to hit as well,” he said. “The mis-hit on them is a bad mis-hit. So I can be a bit hesitant to actually hit the ball. ... Each situation calls for something different, it depends where the wind’s going, where you are on the field, who the returner is, different stuff like that.”
Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower noted Wishnowsky was a unique punting prospect because of the different ways he makes it difficult on return men. Wishnowsky learned those skills playing Aussie rules football, which requires being able to angle kicks in different directions, vary spins and trajectories, and even kick with both feet.
“He has balls that he can kick that fall different ways that can give a returner the illusion that it’s going one way and then it will go a different way,” Hightower said. “So that’s one thing he’s worked on his whole life and hopefully that will continue to be something that can help us.”
If his work in training camp is an indication, Wishnowsky appears to be on the right track.
Rookie tight end signed
San Francisco on Friday made a roster move, releasing veteran tight end Niles Paul and claiming tight end Daniel Helm off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers.
Helm, 24, played three seasons at Duke, logging 69 receptions for 767 yards and six touchdowns after transferring from Tennessee following the 2014 season.
Helm joins Ross Dwelley, rookie sixth-round draft pick Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo in competition to back up Pro Bowler George Kittle. Veteran Garrett Celek is on the physically unable to perform list following back surgery in May, which is expected to keep him sidelined six weeks into the regular season.