Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Panthers matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Candlestick Park.
49ers ST C.J. Spillman vs. Panthers KR/PR Ted Ginn
Tale of the tape
Spillman (27): 6 foot, 199 pounds, fifth season, Marshall
Ginn (19): 5 foot 11, 185 pounds, seventh season, Ohio State
The 49ers’ season ended with the ball in Ted Ginn’s hands.
Ginn was tackled at midfield at the end of a 31-yard return after time expired in the 49ers’ 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
It was the final time he touched the ball with the 49ers. Now, Ginn becomes the focus of one of the league’s top coverage units when he suits up for the Carolina Panthers against the 49ers on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
“Playing here with him and now seeing him when he’s on another team, I know what Teddy can do,” said C.J. Spillman, the 49ers’ top special-teams player. “A lot of guys who’ve been here with him know what he can do. At the end of the day, it’s about everybody collectively doing their job.”
Spillman is having another outstanding season as the 49ers’ top gunner on punt coverage with a team-leading 11 tackles. He often draws double-teams on the outside, and he expects the same to occur on Sunday.
And that’s just fine with him. Spillman is adept at splitting double-teams and avoiding blocks down the field to make the tackle or redirect the return man into the teeth of the 49ers' coverage unit.
“That means even if I can’t down there, somebody else is free to make a play,” said Spillman, who estimates he gets double-teamed 70 percent of the time.
Spillman did not play special teams during his college career. But he knew his ticket to an NFL roster spot was on the coverage teams. He was an understudy to Pro Bowl specialist Kassim Osgood while with the San Diego Chargers. Now, Spillman and Osgood are reunited as members of the 49ers.
“A lot of things I learned are a credit to Kassim Osgood,” Spillman said. “He’s a great teacher. You can always sit there and take pieces of people’s games and add them to yours. That’s what I try to do."
The 49ers will have to bottle up Ginn, who is always a threat to pop a big play in the return game. During Ginn's three seasons as the primary return man, the 49ers were in good hands. He took care of the football, and he averaged 11.8 yards on 94 returns. He had two punt returns for touchdowns, and added another score on a kickoff return.
Ginn’s knee injury, which prevented him from playing in the NFC championship game following the 2011 season, might have prevented the 49ers from a trip to the Super Bowl. Ginn’s replacement, Kyle Williams, committed two turnovers on punt returns, including one in overtime that led to the winning points.
This season, Ginn is doing more on offense with 21 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns.
“As we all know, he’s extremely fast, but, he’s caught the ball well,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He’s caught the ball inside the numbers, outside the numbers. He’s made some big plays for those guys.”
Ginn has yet to make big plays in the return game, but that might be the area in which he still poses his biggest threat. He is 15th in the NFL with an 8.3-yard average on punt returns, and he’s 14th at 24.7 on kickoff returns.
And Ginn knows things will not be easy on Sunday against Spillman and the rest of the 49ers’ coverage unit.
“The 49ers always had great special teams,” he said. “(Special teams coordinator) Brad Seely always comes out and has his guys up and running. The only thing you have to do is match their intensity and you got to play sound. You got to let it all come to you. You can’t push for nothing. You got to go out and play football.”