I got my answer.
As I wrote here yesterday, I was eager to ask Mike Singletary why Bobby Guillory got all the punt returns (six, including a fair catch) and kickoff returns (two) against the Vikings on Sunday.
Here is what the coach had to say in response today: “We brought the kid in. He’s a quick-twitch guy out here. He caught some punts and I just felt, you know what, why don’t we let him take it? Let’s see how he does, let’s see how he handles it. It was a lot to put on a young kid, but I thought he did a pretty decent job of it.”
Observers could argue with the assessment, noting that Guillory muffed one punt and fair-caught another at the 3-yard line. Whatever. Singletary was definitely making the let’s-see-what-the-kid-has argument.
But that logic assumes that his other options – Ted Ginn? Dominique Zeigler? Kyle Williams? – can line up and catch punts or kickoffs in the regular season without getting a lot of work in the preseason.
Ginn didn’t seem so sure when I asked him Tuesday.
“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,” he noted. “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.”
And this is from a fourth-year veteran with 147 career kickoff returns and 36 punt returns. Zeigler has a whopping total of two punt returns. The rookie Williams has none, and is currently sidelined with an injured big toe that Singletary referred to as “a pretty good sprain.”
Ginn said he wouldn’t mind getting some returns in the final two preseason games.
“You always need work,” he said. “There’s no ‘I don’t need this, I don’t need that.’ I love to play football. It’s just right now, it’s just not time. And if it was, hey, I’d be out there with my players and coaches. But just for right now, they got other ideas and other plans that I guess they’re trying to look into.”
For his part, Singletary sounded unperturbed, if unsure, about his return game.
“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.”
Tuesday, rookies Phillip Adams and Kevin Jurovich joined Ginn and Guillory for punt returns, adding to the rotation. As a group, they struggled a bit. Adams dropped one. He, Ginn and Guillory all overran balls that bounced behind them.
The whole situation has some 49ers fans scratching their heads. They came into training camp excited about LeRoy Vann, an undrafted rookie from Florida A&M who set an NCAA record with 11 combined kick returns for touchdowns, and is one of only five Football Championship Subdivision players to return both punts and kickoffs for at least 1,000 yards each.
The 49ers cut Vann Aug. 9. Asked why he wasn’t given the same opportunity Guillory is getting, Singletary was blunt in his assessment.
“We felt that giving LeRoy Vann the opportunity in practice to look and see what he was doing, we felt that he wasn’t as consistent catching the ball,” Singletary said. “We just felt that after a while we really needed to move on, and we felt that he wasn’t the answer.”
Does it make sense? Not for me to decide. But I’ll go out on a limb and say the 49ers still have some decisions to make when it comes to punt and kickoff returns.