How important is a return man?
Think back with me if you will Forever Faithful, to a season not that far removed in our minds. It’s was 2011, and no one thought the San Francisco 49ers would win more than a handful of games under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Obviously, that team shocked a lot of people and, as far as some are concerned, should have won the Super Bowl that year.
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That didn’t happen though, mainly because a very important piece of the puzzle was missing in the NFC Championship game. We all know the story, as WR Ted Ginn, Jr. was injured, forcing WR Kyle Williams to handle the return duties. Two turnovers later…well you know what happened. Let’s just say that when you teach your kids how to handle a rolling punt, you DON’T tell them to run at the ball and hit it with your knee. It’s not soccer.
I’m rambling…sorry, I still wake up screaming sometimes…it’s a process.
Anyway, Ginn was a huge part of the 49ers that season, mainly because of what he could do on kickoffs and punt returns. If you need more proof, just think back to Week 1 of that fateful year. The Niners were clinging to a small lead over the Seattle Seahawks, up 19-17 and getting the ball back with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. Seattle had just scored and had momentum, when Ginn returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a score. He put the game away for good the very next time he touched the ball, returning a punt 55 yards for another touchdown.
The 49ers haven’t had a dynamic, game changing return man since Ginn, that is until they took a chance on RB Jarryd Hayne. The former Australian rugby league star has been a revelation on the field, looking explosive every time he touches the ball. Even though there are still two preseason games left, Hayne has already done enough to make the team, and be the primary return man (at least in the this writer’s humble point of view).
#49ers RB Jarryd Hayne makes incredible over the shoulder catch as he fields this punt while then putting on the after-burners! A video posted by Ryan Sakamoto ? (@sakamotoryan_) on
The stats are mind boggling on their own, even more so when you consider Hayne never played football before. He’s returned five punts so far for 108 yards. That’s 21.6 yards per return. The only kickoff he brought back went for another 33. Having someone like Hayne get drives started would be a boon to any offense, especially one that struggled last season like San Francisco’s did.
So while Hayne should be a lock for special teams, is there anyway he can bring something to the table as a running back in the regular season? It’s hard to ignore what he’s done out of the backfield so far (13 carries for 117 yards), and I think ultimately he can be a piece of the offense as well. In fact, I agree with a recent article by Ryan Sakamoto in which he state’s that Hayne will replace RB Kendall Hunter on the 53-man roster.
RB Carlos Hyde and RB Reggie Bush are locks to make the team. It would also be very surprising if the team decided to cut ties with fourth round pick RB Mike Davis, especially since the rookie has played well so far. I think he’s a lock as well. That would leave the often injured Hunter on the outside looking in.
We’ve all been appreciative at the way Hunter has performed when healthy, but when someone like Hayne comes along you have to ride the wave for as long as possible. Hayne is athletic and fearless on the football field. He’s a playmaker, plain and simple, and could be the shot in the arm the 49ers need as they transition into a new era of football.
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