Insider analysis: Allen Rossum

The 49ers have spent a lot of time and effort – and draft picks – in recent years to upgrade their return game. Now they're turning to veteran Allen Rossum, one of the most accomplished kick returners in NFL history. But does Rossum still have the juice left to help the 49ers? Steelers expert Jim Wexell spends some time at SFI to tell us what there is to know about Rossum from his Pittsburgh days.

Jim Wexell, Rossum was a big disappointment in Pittsburgh. Even Dan Rooney complained to me about how "the punt returner's" lack of judgment hurt the team against the Baltimore Ravens in the finale, and Mr. Rooney never complains about his ballplayers. Rossum just let too many balls bounce past him down the field.

First of all, he's a class act. Then again, he's from Notre Dame. Not an Irish fan, but in working my beat for 13 years, I've been impressed by the class and character of the ND players. That said, Rossum is finished. I'm surprised he went so quickly in free agency.

But, in looking over his season, it all makes sense: I just looked for the one touchdown he scored last season and it was a kickoff return against the 49ers. It helped get his average to 23.3, but he'd always been a better punt returner throughout his career.

Yet, he averaged only 6.4 yards per punt return this past season. He doesn't have much wiggle and went down too easily, but I always felt comfortable that he would at least catch the ball.

He did this, but only when he chose to do so. He let too many balls fall in front of him and bounce 15-20 yards down the field. It irked fans around here, not that that matters, but when it irks Mr. Rooney to the point where he admits it to a writer, you figure the guy's done. Also, he's too small to help much at cornerback.

Hate to put such a bad spin on such a good man, but that's Allen Rossum.

Craig Massei's take: Rossum finished? The 49ers obviously don't think so. He looked to be in vintage form during last year's game between the Niners and Steelers, when he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, but he apparently didn't show that kind of explosiveness on a regular basis, hence Wexell's belief Rossum doesn't have much left. And, considering he'll turn 33 in October, he's got a lot of NFL wear and tear behind him, as evidenced by all the return yards he has accumulated during his 10-year career, which rank him among the league's all-time leaders. His averages last year with the Steelers – 23.3 yards on kickoff returns and 6.4 on punt returns – hardly were impressive, and the latter figure was a career low. That's not good news from this vantage point, because returning punts is the main reason the 49ers have acquired a veteran who will be playing for his fifth NFL team. But in the final analysis, I believe this is a solid move for the 49ers that will strengthen the overall operation in general and their return game in particular. Rossum is a skilled veteran who can be counted upon to do the right thing when a punt is coming his way, and also after he has it in his hands. That's all that matters for the 49ers, who need a returner they can rely upon after being let down in recent seasons by the likes of draft picks Rasheed Marshall and Brandon Williams and the inconsistency of veteran pickup Michael Lewis last year. Rossum might not be the returner he once was during his 2004 Pro Bowl prime, but he still has some burst left and knows what he's doing and should give the 49ers exactly the stability they are looking for in their return game, particularly their punt return game.

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