NFL

Williams again expected to handle return duties

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)

The last time Kyle Williams circled underneath a punt that really mattered, the New York Giants capitalized on his miscues to win the NFC championship game.

Williams is likely to get an early opportunity to atone for those mistakes Sunday in another key NFC matchup when the San Francisco 49ers open the season against the Green Bay Packers.

With regular punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. questionable to play, Williams is expected to handle return duties against the Packers as he did in place of an injured Ginn against the Giants in the title game.

That didn't work out so well. Williams muffed one punt that led to a New York touchdown, then fumbled another in overtime that led to the winning field goal in the Giants' 20-17 victory.

The 49ers believe Williams has put those gaffes in the past and can provide a spark for one of the NFL's best return units from last season.

''We've always been extremely confident in Kyle back there as punt returner and a kickoff returner,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday.

Williams was a standout in training camp this summer and has distanced himself from the unpleasant ending to last season. Even though the 49ers added veterans Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins to their wide receiver corps this year, Williams' roster spot never was much in question.

Williams finished second among San Francisco wideouts and third on the team with 20 receptions last year and gave the team's return units a boost near the end of the season, when he averaged 20.5 yards on two punt returns and 26 yards on four kickoff returns in two December games.

That gave the third-year veteran a chance on the big stage against the Giants after Ginn was injured the week before in San Francisco's divisional playoff victory over New Orleans. Williams had a 40-yard kickoff return and a 24-yard punt return in that game, but what most people remember are his two turnovers that led directly to half of New York's points, most notably the winning points.

''If you go by everybody has mistakes, that one obviously was one that the whole world got to see,'' 49ers special teams coordinator Brad Seely said. ''But I think Kyle's rebounded nicely. Hopefully he's learned from it, and we progress.''

Ginn handled most of San Francisco's returns last season, when he finished third in the NFL in kickoff returns with a 27.2-yard average and fourth in the league returning punts with a 12.3 average.

But Ginn injured an ankle in San Francisco's Aug. 26 exhibition at Denver and hasn't practiced since. Running back Brandon Jacobs, who injured a knee in the team's Aug. 18 exhibition at Houston and hasn't practiced since, also was listed Friday as questionable to play against the Packers.

Williams did not speak with reporters this week. The 49ers have not asked him to tone down the aggressive style that may have contributed to his struggles in the NFC title game.

''That's the way we want to play. We want to go after it,'' Seely said. ''I think (Williams) likes to try to attack a little bit more than you will see from some other guys, and I think it's because he has an extreme amount of confidence in his ability to catch the ball. He's a really fine catcher, and he's a guy that can judge the ball.''

The 49ers have not determined who will handle kickoffs in Ginn's absence. Kendall Hunter and rookie LaMichael James handled all of San Francisco's kickoff returns during the preseason, combining for a 26.7-yard average.

Harbaugh said that decision won't be made until game time. But the reigning NFL Coach of the Year is eager to get the ball rolling on a season of high expectations after leading the 49ers to a 14-4 finish in his first season as their coach in 2011.

''We're ready to go,'' Harbaugh said. ''Guys have worked their tails off, and there's not much left to dissect or to really talk about. It's time to go do and compete, compete, compete. Last year was a good foundation you can build from, and I feel like our team's ready to do that.''

Tagged: Giants, 49ers, Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Packers

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