Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco concludes his analysis of each position group leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reports on Saturday with the first practice scheduled for Sunday.
The 49ers’ specialists from last season will remain unchanged.
The 49ers brought back 41-year-old kicker Phil Dawson on a one-year contract. Dawson is coming off a season in which he made 88.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. With extra points now at 33 yards, short-distance accuracy is more important than ever. His only missed PAT in 21 attempts last season was blocked.
Punter Bradley Pinion is expected to remain as the 49ers’ kickoff specialist.
--K Phil Dawson
--P Bradley Pinion
--LS Kyle Nelson
--K John Lunsford
Was Pinion really worth a fifth-round draft pick last year?
While he still has a lot of room to improve with his consistency, most of the signs were very positive for Pinion enjoying a long, successful career. Pinion, 22, proved to be effective as a directional punter in his rookie season. His hang time and ball placement contributed greatly to the opposition managing just 283 return yards on 91 punts – only 44 of which were returned. His net average was 39.4 yards. Andy Lee’s net average was better only twice in his first seven seasons. It can be debated whether the 49ers should have gone with a player at a different position where Pinion was drafted. But if he continues to improve and affect field position in a positive way, it will be difficult to second-guess the decision.
Who steps into the return game?
Jarryd Hayne began last season as the 49ers’ punt returner. It was going to be difficult for him to win a roster spot this season, but he took himself out of the picture with his “retirement” this spring to pursue a spot on the Fiji rugby sevens Olympic team. Hayne was not selected to the Olympic team. Bruce Ellington had an encouraging rookie season as a return man, but he battled nagging injuries and had a disappointing second year. Still, he looks to be the front-runner to handle the return chores on punts and kickoffs.