Just a few hours before the San Francisco 49ers boarded Friday’s flight for Green Bay and the season opener against the Packers, Brad Seely was already chomping at the bit to get the 2012 season underway.
While the opening coin toss has yet to be contested, it’s certain one of Seely’s special teams units will be called upon to get the game started. With that in mind, it’s understandable that the 49ers assistant head coach/special teams coordinator was especially energized on Friday afternoon.
“Everybody is always excited about the opener,” Seely said. “The opener is a big deal. I don’t care where you go, if you’re playing at home or on the road it’s a big deal.”
Highly effective and disciplined special teams are trademarks of the coaching staffs Seely has been a part of in his previous 23 years patrolling NFL sidelines.
Expectations remain high for Seely’s units in 2011, coming off a year when the 49ers boasted arguably the NFL’s most impressive set of specialists. The team’s kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee and long snapper Brian Jennings all reached the Pro Bowl a season ago.
Last season, Akers set the NFL single-season record for most field goals with 44 in addition to the league record for points without touchdowns with 166.
Lee enjoyed an NFL record-breaking campaign as well with a 44.0 net punting average, and the 49ers led the league with an opponent’s average starting field position at the 24.3-yard line. San Francisco’s average starting field position at the 33.5-yard line was also the best in the NFL.
With all three specialists returning, it’s no surprise that Seely will rely on those men’s experience when his units take the field at historic Lambeau Field.
“It gives you a lot (of confidence) every time you have veteran guys especially at the start of a new year,” Seely said. “The veteran guys (Akers, Lee and Jennings) have done it and been there. You feel good about their performances from the past and hopefully that will continue going forward.”
With his reliable specialists firmly in place, the only thing left for Seely to determine is which field players will step up.
An early candidate to take a leading role is backup running back Anthony Dixon, whom Seely said is a core member of all the special teams units.
“We will find out come Sunday who are the guys that are leading either on the sideline or on the field,” Seely said. “It could either be by their performance or by getting the other guys up. There’s always some good plays and bad plays in every game. Let’s see how we perform after each one of those.”
Seely couldn’t hide his anticipation for finally getting the opening kickoff underway, but he was also eager to see how some of his younger players would perform.
A number of young playmakers are in contention to see significant time in the return game, and Seely said a decision had not yet been made as to who would take on return duties on punts and kickoffs. Ted Ginn Jr., has been listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, meaning Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Kyle Williams could have the chance to see increased special teams duties.
“The rookies are the guys that concern you because you just haven’t seen them under this kind of stress,” Seely said. “Everybody’s excited about playing the game so I think that multiplies the stress. They have high expectations on the football team so the pressure comes from within… we will see how the young guys perform.”
While question marks remain as to who will take the field to open the game in Green Bay, Seely’s demeanor following Friday’s practice made one thing clear: The 49ers can’t wait to start the 2012 season.
Tags: Anthony Dixon, Brad Seely, Kendall Hunter, Kyle Williams, LaMichael James, Ted Ginn Jr.
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