San Francisco 49ers special team's coordinator Thomas McGaughey, Jr., caught the ears of the media on Wednesday when he discussed the early training camp performance of rookie punter Bradley Pinion.
San Francisco used a fifth-round pick in 2015 to select the Clemson product and subsequently moved longtime starter Andy Lee to the Cleveland Browns.
Pinion has been seen at practice showing off the strong leg that made him so coveted by the 49ers, launching 60-plus yard punts on a regular basis.
"As a punter," the coordinator began. "He has tremendous upside. The hang time to distance ratio with this kid is very, very good. He's got to get consistent directionally, but the sky's the limit with this kid."
McGaughey went on to explain that the desired ratio between hang time and distance is simpler to discover than you might think. A 45-yard punt should have a hang time of 4.5 seconds. The 49ers special teams coordinator said that Pinion is well over that ratio in terms of hang time. That should make the gunner's job a lot more exciting with the opportunity to beat the ball downfield.
In addition to being the team's starting punter, Pinion will hold for kicker Phil Dawson and could potentially be the 49ers kickoff specialist.
"He (Pinion) and Phil are going to compete for the kickoff job," McGaughey said. "And they know that. They're both very talented. Phil has done it for a long time. Bradley has a great young leg. We'll see how it shakes out."
Thus far, all of Pinion's kickoff attempts have flown out of the end zone for would-be touchbacks in games. But for what seems like an obvious choice with the rookie's big leg, McGaughey cautioned anyone trying to count out Dawson.
"Phil can do everything," McGaughey said. "You're talking about a guy that kicked in Cleveland forever. Every kick you can possibly have in the bag, he's got it. It becomes the young gun with power against the veteran with the all tricks of the trade. I look forward to seeing both of those guys compete."
McGaughey also explained that players throughout the roster understand the importance of making an impact on special teams. For young players especially, special teams is very often the deciding factor in determining roster spots.
For two players with equal standing at their position, the one who can make a bigger impact on special teams is the one who will make the 53.
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"We make sure they know that at the end of the day, it's going to be special teams value over everything else," McGaughey said. "They understand that part of it. They know that what they do in the drills is being evaluated."
So, what makes a great special teams player?
"You've got to physical," the coordinator continued. "You've got to be willing to play in space and able to negotiate space. You have to be tough. You have to be able to midstream adjust. You have to be able to learn a number of different positions. Those are just some of the traits. You have to be a discipline guy and someone who is dependable."
As for whom McGaughey expects to be his top special teamers, the coach had two names in mind.
"We have a ton of young guys who are very hungry … and champing at the bit to take that role," McGaughey said. "Nick Bellore is a kid that I've had in the past and that we will have. Nick is one of those quiet leaders. You look for a guy like Nick Moody to step up and be one of those guys. Nick (Moody) is another quiet guy but he is a physical presence and works extremely hard."
The return game is the final piece to the special teams puzzle that McGaughey has six weeks to put together. With Reggie Bush on a veteran's rep count and Bruce Ellington dealing with a muscle strain, Jarryd Hayne, Dres Anderson and DeAndrew White have seen increased reps.
Until the full group is participating, and likely until the 49ers have played a few preseason games, the return game will continue to be a mystery awaiting answers.