Out of the five organizations Allen Rossum has played for in his 12-year career, only one other team besides the 49ers has spent entire training camp practice sessions devoted to special teams.
"It shows the dedication and the seriousness this team takes when it comes to special teams," the 49ers return specialist said after Wednesday afternoon's special teams-only workout. "It shows the dedication from the coaching staff to give us that opportunity, because usually when you're working on special teams during a normal practice, guys are extremely tired from the other drills. They don't really get a chance to focus on the task at hand."
The 49ers used their second Wednesday practice to concentrate on kickoff return and kickoff teams, with special teams coordinator Al Everest running the workout.
"Kickoff return and kickoff team are important because they are huge statement plays in a game and there are big pieces of yardage to be had," long snapper Brian Jennings said. "We have to set up our offense so they can score and we do that on special teams by making big plays. Every special teams unit we have has an opportunity to score points."
Everest emphasizes football fundamentals in his teachings more than just instructing special teams philosophies.
"He makes you understand leverage, how to block a guy and how to beat a blocker," Jennings said of his coordinator. "That's where special teams start. You have to be good football players. So that's what Al helps build. It's one of the best things he does."
While the practice session might not feature "Nutcracker" drills that have highlighted the first week of camp, the special teams sessions still test the players mentally and physically.
"It's a lot of work," Jennings said of a typical special teams-only practice. "We're covering a lot of ground out there. It's basically a cardio day. Guys are sweating, guys are working and guys are winded. It's a matter of getting your mind right because out there you can get tired. But that's how we're going to feel in the games. So today was a great opportunity to get work in when we're tired."
Training camp practices dedicated to special teams also are a perfect stage for young players trying to make a positive impression on their new coaching staff.
Players like undrafted cornerback Carlos Thomas see special teams as their best way to make an immediate contribution to the team.
"It's very important," Thomas explained. "I see special teams as my way of making the team. When we're working on special teams I try to make the best impression I can for the coaches – that's all I can do."
Likewise, veterans are also using the practice period to show their abilities.
"When you have a dedicated special teams practice, you get a chance to work on our craft because you know that all you have to do is work on special teams," Rossum said. "This is where we hone the things that will help us win games in the regular season."
Rossum believes the team will experience similar success that he did in his first season with the 49ers a year ago because the team only lost two mainstays from the team's coverage units in free agency (Keith Lewis and Billy Bajema).
"We lost two key guys from last year's coverage units, but we have our nucleus back," Rossum said. "We have a good core group of guys who understand the importance of special teams and we win a lot of games because of them."
Rossum, 33, still feels like he has some life left in his legs. Having solid core players around only fuels his fire for the upcoming season.
"We gave our offense a lot of great field position and put the other team's offense in bad position because of our coverage teams last year. When you have all the guys coming back, you know the sacrifices they're going to make to help spring me for a touchdown, it makes me very excited for the season," he said.
For the entire special teams units, the goals are simple. "Our goal on special teams is to beat up the other team," Jennings said.
But more important than imposing their will on their opponents is being the best in the league.
"We want to finish No. 1 in the NFL in special teams and we won't stop until we get that done," Jennings said.
With the 49ers putting such a large value on special teams practices (four remaining on the training camp practice schedule) those goals could become a reality.