Bruce brings 'triple threat' to 49ers

Arland Bruce III impressed the 49ers so much this summer that they made the NFL's leading punt returner of 2002 his backup. And Bruce says returning punts isn't even the strongest thing he'll bring to the team this season - a season that he can't wait to get started. "When the lights come on, I feel like it is my time to make it happen," Bruce said.

Bruce will be making it happen as both San Francisco's lead kickoff and punt returner. Bruce won those jobs over Jimmy Williams - who led the NFL in punt returning last year with a 16.8 average - by excelling in the preseason. Bruce averaged 26.6 yards on eight kickoff returns and 7.6 yards on five punt returns.

That summer audition was enough for the Niners to believe Bruce can become a top returner.

"I really believe he can," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "That is basically one of the reasons that we kept him. He has great speed and explosiveness. You know how a guy like that can break things open. That is what we are looking for right now. To me, he's a guy that could be a game-breaker on kickoffs and punts."

Bruce, who switched from running back to wide receiver as a senior in college, played the past two seasons for Winnepeg in the Canadian Football League, where he had 114 receptions for 1,846 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had a 13.9 punt-return average, but it is returning kickoffs that he feels is his strongest asset.

"Definitely," Bruce said. "Playing running back, I had the ball in my hands and I could kind of do what I want with the ball. I just had to follow my blockers and make the play. It is a vision thing. You need to have vision to make plays on kick returns. When coach puts me out there, I'm going to make a play."

Bruce described himself as a "triple threat" because he also can contribute as a receiver.

"I think being able to do punt returns, kick returns and knowing the offense, that really opened the coaches eyes and they saw that I could do three things," Bruce said. "I think anybody who can do that will be a product to anybody."

And Bruce, who originally was signed by Kansas City as an undrafted free agent in 2000, will be getting an opportunity to produce immediately in his NFL debut with the Niners.

"This is a great opportunity for me and I am looking forward to the challenge," Bruce said. "This is the real deal and I've been working hard. This is a great place to be and I am looking forward to doing great things here. The sky is the limit."

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