The key figures on the San Francisco 49ers special team units are likely to be the same in 2016 as they were a season ago.
Kicker Phil Dawson, punter/holder Bradley Pinion and longsnapper Kyle Nelson figure to remain as the three specialists on the roster. Bruce Ellington is once again a candidate to start at kick and/or punt returner.
Another player that had a noticeable presence on special teams during the offseason program was rookie quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Special teams coordinator Derius Swinton II provided insight on all four players at the end of the team's mandatory minicamp.1. Ellington has the skill set to be a weapon.
Swinton was not bashful when discussing Ellington's potential as a return man. The wide receiver entering his third NFL season has averaged 25.6 yards per kick return and 7.7 yards per punt return thus far in his career.
In 2015, Ellington posted two career longs with a 40-yard kick return and a 36-yard punt return.
"Bruce brings a weapon and a skill set that is rare in this league," Swinton said. "He's a guy that we're going to try and get the ball in his hands. He has the chance to be one of the more dynamic returners in this league if we just block him up."2. Driskel has potential to earn unique role on punt team.
Swinton referenced Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker as evidence of how dangerous it can be to have a quarterback play special teams. Hekker, a former All-State high school quarterback, has completed six career pass attempts for 99 yards and one touchdown.
Driskel may be able to provide the 49ers with a similar option. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback has received consistent reps as the up-back on punt coverage. That's a position where San Francisco could take advantage of the rookie's arm and 4.56 40-yard dash speed.
"He has a rare skill set for a quarterback. What can we do now if we have our PP (personal protector) who can throw the ball and run the ball?" Swinton asked rhetorically. "Now maybe Coach Kelly has his whole offense at his disposal now because our PP is a quarterback."3. Pinion is more comfortable going into Year 2.
The Clemson product had a successful rookie season with 43.6 yards per punt and a long of 62 yards. Pinion's 31 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line were tied for sixth-best in the league.
His hard work the last few months indicates that those numbers could improve in 2016.
"He's made strides this offseason. He's gone from a guy that you saw last year, he was primarily going right to now he can put the ball anywhere on punt," Swinton said. "Now more than just going and punting, he's understanding situational football. 'OK coach, we're in this situation, I want to make sure we don't have this ball.' it's a lot easier now."4. Age is just a number for Dawson and Swinton.
Dawson, 41, has 10 years on Swinton. That has made for some fun banter on the practice field as the kicker gears up for his 19th NFL season.
"Phil is great," Swinton began. "Me and Phil have a unique relationship because he thinks that I think that he's old and I tell him, I say, 'I think that you're great.' So we have a thing, he's like, 'Ah, you want me to kick this?' So, the other day, last week Thursday, I pushed him back to about 62-yards. I said, 'Is your old leg ready for this?' He nails it with about three-yards to go and he looks at me like 'OK.' We have a great relationship. We're getting to know each other, getting a feel for each other. It's been really good so far."