When the San Francisco 49ers new coordinators met with the media last week, one thing seemed perfectly clear about Brad Seely, the man charged with handling special teams: He likes competition, whether you're a returner, a kicker or a punter.
Seely doesn't want to anoint anyone, preferring to let players win their jobs in training camp and on the field. That includes veteran kicker Joe Nedney, who has been with the Niners since 2005 but ended the last two seasons on injured reserve.
"I think every football player that comes into a training camp has to prove something," Seely said when asked if Nedney is the team's kicker going forward. "I don't care who you are. Every year is a new year. Last year was last year, next year will be next year. But right now, all we can do is evaluate the players that are on our roster and see how they perform."
Nedney performed well, converting 11 of 13 field-goal attempts before suffering a knee injury to his plant let and missing the last seven games. But he's also 37 years old, so it's possible the 49ers might look to the draft for a kicker who can compete with him in camp. They also have strong-legged Fabrizio Scaccia on the practice squad.
Asked if wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. will be the team's full-time return specialist next season, Seely was noncommittal. Ginn ranked 13th in the league in punt returns with a 13.4-yard average, although he never developed into the deep threat at receiver the Niners hoped he would. He had 12 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown.
"I think he's a guy that we want to touch the football," Seely said. "So if you get the chance to touch the football as a kick returner and punt returner, we want to give him those opportunities as well because he's a guy that can make big plays. Whether they come in the kicking game or they come on offense, it really doesn't matter to us. It's what it's going to do to help our football team win the game."
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh hired Seely from the Cleveland Browns, whose special teams were among the best in the NFL, ranking first in kickoff coverage and fifth in punt coverage this season. But Seely said he had no history with Harbaugh.
"I met Jim really through his brother, (Ravens head coach) John, being a competitor against John over the years when he was a special teams coach in Philadelphia. So I've got a lot of respect for John, his family and the coaching tree that he's come from. We really didn't have much history. I was fortunate enough that I got to meet him and we got along."
At the kick returner position, Seely also said he was open to competition between Ginn and rookie Kyle Williams, who was injured twice and appeared in only five games. He had four kickoff returns for 82 yards.
"My philosophy is, we want to have competition at all spots," Seely said. "We want to have a good punt returner, we want to have a back-up punt returner. We want to have guys who are competing and put the best player out there. I think it's a great situation for us because we've got two guys who have really good qualities to be the punt returner."