If you watch the San Francisco 49ers as religiously as I do week in and week out, you may have noticed something different about them seven games into the 2013 season. Then again, maybe those of you like me who do watch the 49ers as religiously as I do have probably not noticed the subtle but very noticeable improvement with the 49ers so far this 2013 season.
That upgrade which some may or may not have noticed is the improved play of the special teams unit. The improvement in the 49ers special teams play is not confined solely to the play of Phil Dawson who so far this season has proven to be a competent and reliable field goal kicker, a sharp 180 degree turn from the adventures with David Akers at this point last season. While that is a big part of it, this alone does not explain adequately enough the improvement of the overall play from the 49ers’ special teams unit.
This 2013 season, the 49ers’ special teams unit has been a very good and strong unit in terms of covering kickoff and punt returns. There are several reasons why the play of the special teams cover unit has been much better in 2013 as compared to 2012. The first reason that the coverage unit has improved is the presence of Kassim Osgood. While the signing of Osgood went under the radar for many 49ers fans, his signing has been one of the most important if not the most important addition the 49ers made this offseason. What Osgood has brought is a veteran presence to the special teams unit who fills the role of being the gunner, the most important position in any special teams unit.
In addition to the play of Osgood, two other players who are regulars on special teams that have proven to be stalwarts and reasons for the improved play of the unit are Raymond Ventrone and C.J. Spillman. The play of Ventrone and Spillman have greatly contributed to the 49ers special teams in that they are always around or at the very least near the returner ready to tackle him and prevent the punt and or kick returner from breaking one for a big return.
With the 49ers leading 24-10 late in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, the game appeared as if the 49ers were in the process of having to rev up and leave cruise control. Andy Lee sent a booming punt which Darius Reynaud attempted to field with a 49ers player barreling down on him. Because of the pressure he was facing, Reynaud muffed the punt and the loose ball was recovered by Osgood in the end zone for a 49ers touchdown. That sequence alone demonstrates how well the 49ers’ special teams unit has played so far in 2013 and why it is a unit that can be relied upon to do its job and do it well.