Last week, I wrote a piece detailing three major questions that the both the 49ers and Raiders have to address. One of the questions surrounded the special teams and whom the 49ers will choose to help them in the return game.
Since I had been watching the 49ers this entire off-season, I was able to see firsthand at the options the 49ers have been exploring for punt returns. All the current players battling for the spot were not on the roster last season. Out of all the new players, Ted Ginn has been the most intriguing one out of the group.
Newly acquired wide receiver Ted Ginn was brought into San Francisco in hopes of becoming the answer to the team's struggles in the special teams return game. After releasing Allen Rossum midway through last sesaon, the 49ers did not find a successful, permanent solution in that department. The 5'11" receiver out of Ohio State enters his fourth year in the league looking for a fresh start with the 49ers as their answer to their special team woes.
After being drafted by Miami ninth overall in 2007, expectations for Ginn as the second wide receiver off the board (after Calvin Johnson went number two to Detroit) were high. Ginn averaged almost 43 catches in his three seasons in Miami, but did not develop into that immediate impact player the Dolphins had hoped he would become as their top wide out. The Dolphins traded Ginn to the 49ers in exchange for a fifth round draft pick this past April.
With a new start with a new team, Ginn said he was just looking forward to playing football.
"It's my first rodeo on a new team," Ginn said after Monday's morning practice. "As far as going to camp and playing football, I've been doing that for a while. I'm just coming out, enjoying myself, trying to get better and just keep working at it. Football doesn't change; camp doesn't change. You change teams, but you don't change style. You just come out, have a good mindset and get it done."
Ginn is an upgrade from the team's returners from last year. The team's top punt returner option, Arnaz Battle, averaged 2.9 yards per return last year. The team's top kick returner last year was wide receiver Josh Morgan; but the 49ers have made it clear that they want Morgan to focus on being a receiver. Ginn can answer both those issues on special teams.
Despite being one of the more experienced players with special teams return experience on the 49ers roster, his most impressive plays have been as a wide receiver during OTAs, mini-camp and in the first two days of training camp.
With tremendous speed and great hands in catching during the off-season, Ginn has been one of the more impressive receivers during camp. Ginn could end up as the third receiver on the team (behind Michael Crabtree and Morgan) if he continues playing well.
On Monday, Ginn's route running looked very crisp and his cuts on curls to make catches impressed his coaches. Quarterback Alex Smith used Ginn as the team's deep threat twice during practice and there's a confidence in the potential that Ginn brings to the offense.
"I think it is important, developing that timing and kind of finding that role where he’s going to come in and what he’s going to be doing," Smith said of his connection with Ginn on deep passes. "I think it’s something we have to have, absolutely, especially to stretch teams vertically. I think he’s a guy that can do that coming in and really take the top off."
The wideout has been busy the entire off-season. Ginn became a father of twins this summer and had remained in the Bay Area most of the time after OTAs, working out with teammates at team headquarters and building a connection with Smith. Ginn said that the playbook he had in his first year in the league is the same one the 49ers currently run; helping him ease in with his new team's offense.
"Having OTAs and throughout the off-season working out with Alex, and getting that wisdom that he has, I'm (feeling) good," Ginn said of his thoughts on his development in the offense. "There are some new things in there (the playbook), but that goes with the game. I just get better every day."
Smith feels comfortable with Ginn as the team's deep ball threat.
"You know, I feel good about it," Smith said of his thoughts on the team's deep passing attack. "All off-season, and especially the last six weeks, Ted and I have been out here a lot throwing. You have to have that transfer and right now that’s kind of what you go through."
Ginn's confidence in his ability as a receiver may help him elevate his role with the team. Even though the team brought him in to help their special teams, Ginn could make an equally big impact as a receiver. Despite his purpose coming into San Francisco was to help the return game, Ginn said that he wants to work hard and do whatever he can for the team in any capacity.
"Right now I'm just playing football," said of the difference for him between returner and receiver and what his focus was on. "One thing you can do is put it on the field and let the coaches decide. I'm just going to go out and as long as I'm working hard everyday and as long as I'm putting in the work to be where I want to be, it should speak for itself."
The coaches might be fortunate with the options they have in using Ginn. Not only has he looked impressive as a receiver, he looks to be the top candidate to secure either the punt or kick return duties; possibly even both. Ginn prides himself in being a duo threat on the football field and believes that whatever opportunities he can have the ball in his hand, he can make a difference.
"When you play this game, you've got to have two avenues," said Ginn of his diverse abilities as a receiver and a return specialist. Ginn believes that allows him more opportunities to become a playmaker. "However I can touch the ball, it's great; however I can get the ball in my hand."
"Whether it's punt return, kickoff return, pass, reverse, or going underneath center to get the snap, however it may be, you try to make whatever work for you. However they (the coaches) scheme things up, I'll roll with it."
Both avenues for Ginn could very well help him become a major double-threat for the 49ers — more than what they had anticipated when trading for him. If he continues to play well throughout the off-season and into the preseason, he's going to have the green light to become one of the team's most versatile and dangerous weapons.