A sometimes overlooked aspect of the game is special teams, but not this season, and not on 49ers.com. Each week, we'll feature Teams Talk, a column dedicated to special teams and those who play on them. These teamers will share their breakdowns of the upcoming opponent and give you some insight on some aspects of special teams you might not be too familiar with. With experience on nearly all the special teams units, Jeff Ulbrich shares his thoughts in this week's column.
The punter for Carolina is Jason Baker and he was actually here for a while and I played with him. He has a super strong leg. He reminds me a lot of Andy Lee, but I do think Andy's better.
Baker is a good directional punter. It seems like he can put the ball where he wants to most of the time. I think we will have an opportunity as a punt return team to make some plays because he does get some distance on the ball. Michael Lewis is excellent when you give him distance to set up returns so I think that will be an area where we can make some plays.
The kicker, John Kasay, is a proven vet and he's a great field goal kicker. As far as kickoffs are concerned, I think we can make some plays there because he's going to give us a chance to return the ball. I think we're all anxious as a kickoff return unit to do better than we have. We've seen a lot of opportunities on film and we just need to get it right.
Ryne Robinson is a good punt returner. He's similar to Steve Breaston, who we played last week at Arizona. He's very elusive and has good vision. He has the ability to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. We're just going to have to keep doing what we've been doing. We need to get great kicks by Andy and have great group coverage by all of us.
DeAngelo Williams is also a very good kick returner. You see a lot of kick returners that are pure speed guys who are looking for daylight, but I think Williams is more of a quick and fast guy. He also runs with more power than your typical kick returner just because he is a lot more stout. He's going to be a challenge in many ways. He's quick and he can make the big return, but at the same time he can break some tackles if the return is not there.
I play on just about all the special teams so I'll try to explain which positions I play on each unit. I have been rotating in on kickoff just because of my ankle, but once it's at full strength I'll be a regular in there. I have been playing a position we call a "hunter" and my primary objective is to get to the play. I read the back end where a wedge is usually setting up and I run towards where they're going. I either fit up in it or try to beat the guys in the wedge and make the play.
On punt return, I'm line up on the left side and I'm normally matched up against their right tackle or right guard. Essentially, if it's a left return, I'm trying to keep my man from going left and if it's a right return, I'm trying to keep those guys from going right. Occasionally I'll have a chance to rush through one of those gaps as well.
On punt, I'm the right tackle and our goal is to protect Andy and keep him clean to get the punt away. Once the ball is kicked, I get down field to get to the ball and try to make a play.
I think playing on special teams has made me somewhat more aggressive on defense as well. I would like to think I've always been a very emotional player and I've always played with a lot of energy, but it seems like this year I've really taken full advantage of playing for Coach Al and being around all the special teams guys. It's really given me a new lease on my football career. I think that's been contagious to the rest of the guys as well. It's improved my game and it's also made everything more enjoyable. Hopefully it's made everybody a lot better.
Coach Al Everest has been a huge part of our success on special teams, no question. However, special teams assistant Jeff Rogers has been a big asset as well. He's been a constant resource for every guy on special teams. He knows our opponent just as well as Al does and probably as good as any coach on the staff. He's always there if we have any questions about scheme or about the opponent. He's steady and you can constantly rely on him and I know I have, not just this year but for all the years he's been here.
We haven't played Carolina a whole lot in the last few years and it's obviously a disadvantage when you haven't seen them as much, but it's a disadvantage that both teams are facing. They do some things that we don't see on an every week basis. The last time we played Carolina I think Steve Smith was still primarily returning punts.
It's going to be a big challenge, and we're always up to the challenge when we go on the road. The saying that we've had around here for a while is, "When you go on the road, you pack your defense and your special teams." Those are critical on the road. When the opposing crowd is into it, it makes it tough on your offense. We put a lot of emphasis on our defense and special teams on the road because those units can make some big plays to help take the crowd out of it. This year, I think we've been up to that challenge.