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Last season ended with Kyle Williams making a couple of key mistakes as a fill-in punt returner that led to the San Francisco 49ers’ downfall in the NFC Championship Game.
Now, the Niners are about ready to open the 2012 season with Williams again filling in as a punt returner.
Is anyone nervous about that?
Certainly, as the days slip away in the countdown to the season opener in Green Bay on Sept. 9, Williams’ prospects as a punt returner will become a storyline for reporters and a conversation point for fans and radio talk-show hosts.
The only person seemingly not nervous about it all is Williams himself.
With punt and kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. hobbled by a sprained ankle he suffered against the Broncos Sunday – and his prospects now uncertain for the Packers game – Williams says he’s ready.
When asked if he’s prepared to open the season returning punts at Lambeau Field, Williams told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee: “Let’s go.”
“My confidence level is always at 100 percent,” Williams told Barrows. “I don’t feel uncomfortable at all back there.”
With the 49ers’ final exhibition game scheduled for Thursday night in San Diego against the Chargers, Williams will return punts and running back Kendall Hunter likely will return kickoffs in Ginn’s absence.
Ginn, who is in a walking boot after having to leave Sunday’s game against Denver, could be out for a while. Though X-rays were negative on Ginn’s right ankle, it’s a possibility ligament damage could sideline him for an extended period. At this point, he’s still day-to-day.
In relief of Ginn Sunday, Williams came on to return three punts for 30 yards, while fair catching another. Williams also had a reception for 46 yards and made a tackle on punt coverage as the gunner.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was supportive of Williams after his two errors returning punts led to San Francisco’s overtime loss to the Giants in January’s NFC Championship Game, said Williams played well against the Broncos.
Harbaugh also reiterated he has confidence in Williams as a punt returner.
“He played very good in the return game,” Harbaugh told Barrows.
Since Williams made his costly mistakes against the Giants, he’s been accountable and willing to talk about them. He’s answered every question from the media, and he’s received the support of his coaches and teammates. He put himself through a more rigorous offseason training regimen, worked on his speed and added muscle.
He is, says Harbaugh, one of the hardest workers in 49ers training camp.
And, he’s ready to put the past in the past and get on with whatever job he needs to do, including returning punts, if necessary, against the Packers.
“If I have to step in and take care of that, I’m more than prepared and ready to go,” Williams told reporters.