49ers focused on improving special teams in free agency

Kyle Shanahan has seen enough.

The 49ers special teams units have ranked near the bottom of the league over the last two seasons. As opponents routinely picked up big yardage on kickoff returns. Meanwhile, seeing San Francisco return a kickoff out to the 25 was cause for a standing ovation.

And who can forget the mistakes from the San Francisco punt return unit? After their defense opened the game by forcing Seattle to a three and out, this unit allowed Travis Homer to take a fake punt 73 yards for a touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter of their NFC Wildcard contest against Dallas, this unit was at it again, allowing the Cowboys to convert for a first down on a fake punt which led to a field goal.

Following the game, Kyle Shanahan gave his thoughts on the performance of his special teams.

“My number one goal is not to lose on special teams,” responded Shanahan. “It means I’m not just going into games trying to dictate the flow games through fakes. I usually want to depend on offense, but special teams, the starting point is to not lose it, to not turn the ball over, to make sure we get the ball back. So, that’s not just because of now. But yesterday with the special teams, those two plays were huge.

“Our defense rebounded huge on it, but it did cost us three points on one, on the fake punt.”

San Francisco has made improving special teams play a priority early this offseason.

The team started the process when it hired Brian Schneider to replace Richard Hightower as the special teams coordinator. From 2010 to 2020, Schneider was the special teams coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. During the early part of his tenure in Seattle, the Seahawks’ special teams were among the best in the league.

A coach is only as good as his players, and three of the 49ers first five free-agent signings have a special team’s focus. The first move was signing linebacker Oren Burks from Green Bay.

San Francisco again addressed special teams, adding former Steelers receiver Ray Ray McCloud late Thursday night. The addition of McCloud addresses the 49ers need for an upgrade at kick returner. He averaged 9.7 yards per punt return and 22.2 yards per kickoff return last season.

The latest move came early Friday when San Francisco added former Indianapolis Colts safety George Odum.

Odum has been a special teams ace for Indianapolis, playing all 65 games during his four years with the team. In 2020, Odum earned All-Pro honors for his efforts on special teams.

In addition to his play on special teams, Odum made a career-high seven starts last season. He racked up 55 tackles, one interception, forced a fumble, and recovered one.

The 49ers focus on special teams has not only been about adding new players. The team retained exclusive rights free agent linebacker Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles and safety Tarvarius Moore returns after missing the 2021 season.

Improved play from special teams and the quarterback position could lead to big things for San Francisco in 2022.

This article has 24 Comments

  1. Give them a B for the special teams improvements. But overall more inclined to agree with NBC Sports which calls the 49ers a “loser” in free agency and suggests, “The 49ers have few options to trade Garoppolo and no leverage. Meanwhile, they lost guard Laken Tomlinson and defensive tackle D.J. Jones and are likely to lose K’Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt. The signing of cornerback Charvarius Ward was OK, but overall it’s been an uninspired start to the new league year. And the Garoppolo question gets harder to solve by the day.” And what about Jordan Willis and Arden Key who Jack rightly touted and thought were worth resigning? Not a word. Disappointing overall, certainly in comparison to what the Raiders, Rams, others have accomplished so far.

    1. hahahahaha, this guy! winning free agency means you overpay for other teams rejects because you dont have any good players of your own to pay….because you missed on draft after draft! No team has ever “won” free agency and then won the SB! Whats hard to understand about JG? Niners are trying to trade him…..to get the highest possible draft pick for a player they have no plans to keep. Then they will use the saved $ to extend Deebo, and Bosa.
      Also, Key, Willis and Tart are middling players who could be had for cheap. No rush, the longer they sit on the shelf…the cheaper it will be to sign them.
      Jones and Tomlinson are decent players…..but they were grossly overpaid….and it so happens we have a 1st and 2nd round pick waiting in the wings to replace them. to say it would be bad business to over pay the vets and not give the high draft picks a shot would be putting it lightly :)

      1. I thought the 49ers ‘94-‘95 season Super Bowl winning team downright won free agency in that offseason.

        A few of the names I remember:

        Deion Sanders
        Ken Norton Jr.
        Ricky Jackson
        Richard Dent
        Tim Harris
        Gary Plummer
        Toi Cook
        Bart Oates

        I’m sure there are other names I’m forgetting on that roster.

        1. Gavin, i’ll give you that one! good job my friend. I have a funny story about this topic.
          When i was new to this site, about 10 years ago, i was in a debate with Mr. Hammer about the ’93 & ’94 teams. Jack was adamant that ” Steve Young choked in ’93”. I pointed out that we replaced/ upgraded ( i wanna say 11 starter or major contributors. Been 10years since i researched it ) almost half the team.
          After all my hard work, time and effort to research FA’s & draft picks……..jack’s comeback was simply…….Steve Young choked!

          I have gotten over it, but I’m pretty sure i was hard on Jack for a while. lol
          You named 8 FA’s….add in a few rookies….and i can see 11 new starters being on the money. That is probably the only exception of winning FA and the SB. 2-3 years prior…the Packers getting Reggie White led to a SB down the rode, once Favre hit his prime. My point was for Rob to chill out and stop peeing in our cheerios lol.
          I wouldn’t mind re-signing most of our remaining FA’s as long as its on the cheap. I also wouldn’t mind if they leave. I’d be happy for them getting paid. At this point we have 9-10 draft picks to replenish our depth. SS and OG would be positions we might need starters…..and the draft is deep there and WR and EDGE. Speaking od EDGE……that is probably the main position i hope they bring another big name FA in. Might be to expensive though…….id settle for keeping our own, Key & Wllis…..and a draft pick or 2.

          1. Nice! I agree with that assessment too. Not looking for any big name free agents to come in. The team has shown that they’re able to succeed without reckless contracts. The Rams have their philosophy and we have ours. Both seem to be working. I think if the right guy was available and it was the missing link, they’d pounce. But I don’t see anyone on the market fit that billing. I always worry Kyle might want to overspend on a WR and he has always seemed infatuated with OBJ, but I hope they don’t pursue anyone at that position. The draft is where it’s at for longer term sustainability.

            1. I would add that there probably was a remote possibility of adding Cordarelle Patterson to the mix. He just re-signed with Atlanta but might still be possible to get him if he’s involved in a Garoppolo trade to the Falcons. They haven’t disclosed his contract numbers yet but I’m not sure he’s going to get more than $10M guaranteed over two years. He does love it in Atlanta though and they might give him a 3 year deal. Would have been a good pick up for this offense. Imagine two Deebos on the same team!

        2. … and then the pit opened and swallowed them. Dallas went big for the next season (Prime Time) and have been struggling since then.

      2. J makes sense. Key, Willis, and Tartt are middling but competent. I hope we retain them at a reasonable price.

    2. Rob is right: the free agency has not been a great one for the Niners. If we get nothing for Jimmy G, in part because of his late-season shoulder injury, do we keep him as a backup to TL or possibly a starter again. No question Jimmy G is popular with the players and is a good leader.

      1. Allie :) There is a path to Jimmy returning next year, but its a long shot. We would have to , not be able to trade JG at all. Like, all the way into training camp. Then finally cut him. There is no way we pay him $27 mil. Then, he would have to hit the open market and go unsinged . That means no other team would need a starting qb. If we fail to find a trade partner……it might not be far fetched, I do think teams would be interested because they wouldn’t have to trade draft picks or pay the $27 mil. Personally, i think its unlikely ( more on that to come)……but its not impossible. There might be 4 open qb jobs right now, but there’s a couple FAs ( Mariotta, Winston) and a couple guys who could be traded ( Mayfield, Ryan).

        It would basically be a chain of events, each one unlikely…..and all of them chained together, extremely unlikely…..but it would look like this:

        cant trade JG
        camp rolls around, no other qb gets hurt…..still cant trade JG
        cut JG
        No team offers JG a starting job/ starter $$$
        little to no interest in JG at all….best offers are back up $$ with a chance to compete for the starting job
        these offers are from bad teams
        niners offer same ( back up $$ / chance to compete)

        that is the chain of events. And i think, no matter what they told him…..it would be almost impossible to beat out TL, he would be backing up.

        IMO i thin he gets traded to the Colts for the #2 they got from WASH. Yes, early 2nd.
        The other qb dominos had to fall. Baker wants to be a Colt……..But they just got rid of Wentz for being too immature. Wentz had better stats than Baker and JG!!!! So maturity and leadership are important. Rhule is fighting to keep his job …so the Panthers make sense too. Now that Watson shunned them, JG looks a lot brighter. Both teams are similar to us, good D, good running game. In addition…both of thier outstanding RBs can do a lot in the passing game. JG’s lack of a big time arm can be less of an issue in both places.

        1. hugs her J. I agree..you make good points. But we need Mariota as the good character, quiet and intelligent, could start for many teams as the backup. Not that practice squad guy. TL could get hurt!

  2. Off topic but even though Niners didn’t have the draft juice to pull it off anyway, I sure hope this franchise wouldn’t have brought in Deshaun with the 22 lawsuits unresolved and serious character and behavior issues exposed.
    1 or 2 accusers could be gold diggers, but 22?

    1. This is a black mark on that Browns franchise that will live forever. Not to mention the groveling Saints, Panthers and Falcons.

  3. Congrats to Jack Hammer. He is doing a sensible, solid job with this column. Nice guy also.

  4. To go along with the ST signings look for them to trade Wishnowski for a 6th round pick and for them to use one of their 3rds on Matt Araiza San Diego St’s punter.
    I would love to see them sign Key, Willis and Kerry Hyder. That would give them one hell of a D line rotation.

  5. McGlinchy’s quad injury seemed like it was more than anyone was letting on at the time. I think in general the rate of return after a fully torn quad is 50%. Might McGlinchy be done and we just haven’t heard anything yet?

    The O-line is a major weakness and I’m starting to think Lynch/Shanny have a 2 year plan to really compete.

    1. How is the O-line a major weakness. The were the 3rd highest ranked. Compton was not kept which is a pretty good indication that McGlinchy will be fine and return to the RT position. Clearly losing Tomlinson is a blow but they have plans for that and it surely doesn’t make them a major weakness.

      1. Is everybody that comments here, of the mindset that Trey Lance is gonna cure all of the 9ers ills? How is the O line a major weakness? Really?? How about this for starters..Alex Mack, starting Center who is 37, may come back..or may not..Tomlinson is gone, but they’re gonna plug in a 2nd year guy as the starter at LG, who was healthy every game, didn’t suit up, but kept Tomlinson’s spot on the bench warm while the 9ers were on offense…keeping Brunskill at RG, which is fine, but he’s hardly a dominating force at RG..he’s serviceable…McGlinchey tore the quad muscle from the bone..he may or may not play again..are they banking on him returning, and staying healthy? The idea should be to make the transition from Garoppolo to Lance as smooth as possible for the kid…dollars and cents wise, Lance is cheap..the team should be spending the $$$, to give him the best protection possible…..

  6. the Oline is definitely suspect right now.. i’m not sure about OT, but i know the draft is deep on OG/C. It wouldnt shock me to see 2-3 early picks spent on OG/C in this years draft. 2 if they are sold on Banks. 3 if they are not. Also, we’ll find out how they feel about Moore. Maybe he can play RT…..if not, look for a draft pick who can play OT/OG. If they can find and OG in the draft….that could leave Moore, MMCG and Brunskill in the mix for RT

    1. J makes sense. OL is a concern for me. The replacement for Tomlinson is untried and was so out of shape last year he could not play.

  7. Baker Mayfield still hasn’t signed with the Colts. Cult it be the Colts waiting on Jimmy Garoppolo’s medical status?

    Could be the Colts and Browns are taking their time to work out a trade package and Mayfield’s contract restructure.

  8. Mike Florio, who is both unreliable and annoying, is reporting that Lynch claims he has an offer for 2 2nds for Jimmy. If this is true, accept now – like immediately .

    As we hear it, 49ers G.M. John Lynch is telling interested teams that he has an offer in hand of two second-round picks for Garoppolo, a player the team acquired in 2017 for one second-round pick. (At least one interested team reacted to the news, we’re told, by concluding that, if the 49ers have two first-round picks for Garoppolo, they should take it.)

    Potential destinations beyond Indianapolis include, in our view, the Saints, the Texans, and maybe the Panthers. The Seahawks likely are looking for an upgrade, but it’s unclear whether the 49ers would trade him in the division. (It happens; the Patriots sent Drew Bledsoe to the Bills in 2002, and the Eagles sent Donovan McNabb to Washington in 2010, to name the first two that come to mind.)

  9. Ryan goes to Indy! No market for the injured and mediocre Jimmy G. All trades look dead at this time. Winson to New Orleans. Mariota to Atlanta. Niners stuck with TL and the horrible practice squad dude they overpaid for.

  10. I was always doubtful that Lynchj could unlead Jimmy G when he had a bad shoulder and needed surgery and many months off. Any new team wants him for OTL’s. Jimmy G is back at either a tiny restructured salary or jettisoned altogether. Bad off-season with no improvements to the team so far.

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