One area the 49ers hope to improve on in 2013 is special teams play, particularly on kick and punt coverage.
So with that in mind, San Francisco signed some veterans with good NFL track records on special teams, including wide receivers Kassim Osgood and Marlon Moore, safety Raymond “Bubba” Ventrone and linebacker Dan Skuta.
“We are taking a special teams unit that’s been very good, very productive, and seeing if we can’t get even better,” head coach Jim Harbaugh told the team’s website this summer. By adding players with a history of making big special-teams plays, said Harbaugh, “those teams have the chance to be elite.”
Osgood, in particular, could be a high-impact player.
The three-time special teams Pro Bowler, 33, who’s played for the Chargers, Jaguars and Lions, made an immediate contribution in his debut for the 49ers against the Denver Broncos in the team’s first exhibition game of 2013.
On the second-half kickoff, Osgood – who’s made a good living making tackles on punts and kickoffs as a gunner – streaked downfield to take down Broncos returner Trindon Holliday at the 6-yard line. For the night, he had two of the 49ers’ six special-teams tackles.
He also made contributions as a receiver with three catches for 34 yards.
In training camp, he’s been a surprisingly strong contributor at wideout, where the 49ers are searching for help getting past injuries to Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.
“Kassim did a great job on the open-field tackle on (the) kickoff,” Harbaugh told reporters, praising both his job on special teams and as a receiver. “He had a tough catch on the boundary on offense. Played with a lot of energy. Looked good.”
For Osgood, he’s been happy getting the opportunity to make a difference in a couple of areas.
“Right now my main focus is to come in right now, receiver by committee, do what we can do to progress through the games and generate some wins and get (Manningham and Crabtree) back, too,” Osgood said.
In what should be a very tough fight for the 49ers in the NFC West this season, with strong challenges expected from the Seahawks and Rams, special teams play could be key to helping San Francisco get an edge to defend its 2011 and 2012 division titles.
Osgood, 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, knows he can play a big role on those units. Special teams, he says, are a team’s almost-secret weapon.
“Special teams is that dagger you have in that sheath behind your back when you have the broad sword, and you’re swinging that big sword,” he told Scout.com. “And suddenly they have you unarmed and suddenly you pull that dagger out and you get them. This year, we have to really polish it up.”