Who Will Return Kicks for the 49ers This Season?

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COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers were among the group of 15 teams that did not have a kick return or punt return for a touchdown in 2012, which brings to light the ultra-picky skepticism of the team's kick return unit entering the new season.

San Francisco is arguably the NFL's most well rounded team, but it is the question of kick returner that has seemed to draw the most attention in the past week.

The question has been validated, given the 49ers' past woes in the return game. San Francisco's last return for a touchdown was Ted Ginn's big day against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 11, 2011, where he had a punt return and kick return for a touchdown to lead the 49ers to a 33-17 win at home.

There is, however, the two fumbles in the 2011 NFC Championship by Kyle Williams that cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl. Williams started at punt returner in that game due to Ginn's injury in the playoffs, and without Ginn this season, the 49ers could expect much of the same uncertainty on special teams.

Williams, who is still a viable option at kick returner, is recovering from a torn ACL that shut him down last season. It gives San Francisco limited mobility for a role that the team must address in training camp.

The 49ers will try anything to start, as has been apparent in rookie camp with former quarterback and rookie B.J. Daniels engaging in punt and kick returns. Although no one should rule him out from returning kicks for the 49ers this season, it appears like it is the only way Daniels will make the team.

The more realistic scenario for who will return kicks for the 49ers this season lies in the talents of LaMichael James. The second-year player was quite impressive when called upon last season and should be the front-runner for the job entering training camp.

James had 14 attempts for 417 yards during the regular season, but proved reliable in the playoffs with seven attempts for 162 yards.

Once Williams and Kendall Hunter return to full health from their injuries, they will likely join James as options in the return game.

One player that should not be forgotten is 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, who is still trying to find a role on the team. Working his 4.3-second 40-yard dash time into the mix at kick returner may prove to be his only chance of seeing any significant time on the field this season.

Scott Semmler is a senior at San Jose State University fortunate enough to have covered nearly every Bay Area professional sports team, including the San Francisco Giants' 2012 World Series title. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSemmler22.

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