Teams Talk: Returners

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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. Check out this week's column which features our returners in kickoff returner Maurice Hicks and punt returner Michael Lewis.

KICKOFF RETURNER MAURICE HICKS

We've got a big challenge coming up on Sunday because Baltimore is a physical team, and we've got to out-physical them.

They have some pretty good guys on special teams and especially for me, Keith Lewis, and any of us going up against their wings, we've got our work cut out for us. They've got Ed Reed coming off the edge and we have to make sure we protect well because he's been good on blocking punts.

Their kicker Matt Stover tends to kick the ball to his left, so out to my right usually inside the hashes. On kickoff return, I just keep looking to break a big one, and I think if guys keep working hard like they have been that we'll get one soon. You have to have the mindset that you are going to make a big play that can turn a game around and capture some positive momentum. I just look to help my team win the game every time I touch the ball.

The Ravens have some pretty good returners, so we just have to take care of our assignments, get down field, hit and make plays like we have been doing. Everybody has to be on the same page, particularly in coverage. If someone is not covering at the same speed as everyone else, that leaves gaps for those returners to get big plays. We've done a great job of staying level and that's helped us out a lot.

At punt return, they've got Yamon Figurs and Ed Reed. On the long punt return Figurs got earlier this year, a lot of guys missed tackles on the return, but he does have some speed. When he hits the crease, his speed helps him out. We can't let him get in the open field because he will use that speed, and the same goes on kickoff returns which he also handles for them.

Reed is more the guy who will change direction and run all across the field. You don't really know where he might go. We have to do a good job as wings on punt and contain and push him back inside when he's out there.

When we go out there on teams, we look for every opportunity to change the game and that's what we did last week a few times. We got the onside kick and Keith Lewis did a great job pressuring and getting his hand on the punt. Those plays can easily change the game around and we have to just keep doing that, and eventually they'll benefit us with W's.

The onside kick will keep teams honest. Seattle ran that four-man wedge but the onside kick makes teams bring more guys up. Then you just use speed to get around those guys and make plays, so it softens things up in the back end for us considerably. We've been so successful with it and when teams give us that look, we go after it.

Coach Al Everest wants us going after it every change we get, and that's what we're trying to do out there.

PUNT RETURNER MICHAEL LEWIS

I think things went pretty well last week for me out there. It was the first time that the guys had worked with me. A lot of guys talked to me and said they appreciate what I did and that they like what I bring to the table, so that made me feel comfortable.

I'm just going to take the same approach to this next game, just go out and try to make plays and don't try to overdo it. I just want to keep working with the guys and get more confidence in myself, as well as them getting more confidence in me. We just have to go out and handle our jobs. We're not going to bust one every time we touch the ball, but if we keep working at it, good thing are going to happen.

I watched film on Baltimore this week obviously, and it also helps me because I've played against them a couple of times. They have some very good guys on their team. Ed Reed can stop a lot of returns. We just have to contain those guys and get in position to make plays. Coach Al is going to put us in the best possible position heading into the game so we just have to go out there and do what we need to do.

Scott Koch is a directional punter for the most part so he's always going to go to the short side of the field. I just have to make sure when he kicks it a certain way that I get a good jump on the ball.

I've been watching their gunners, and again it's Reed who stands out. He'll try to do a lot of things to throw you off. I think overall that they take a lot of pride in their special teams unit. Our main goal is just to contain those guys and then hopefully I have a chance to make them miss when they get release out there. Watching film gives you a good idea of who you have to pay attention to and who is making plays on their side. I'll do what I can to get free, and then rely on the ten other guys I have out there to make some good blocks for me.

We know that big plays on teams can definitely help give us an advantage, and that's what we head into this game looking to do.

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