The 49ers rank 31st in covering kickoffs after yet another long return - 66 yards - in Sunday's loss to the Giants. The Seahawks rank fourth in the same category. The leader of that group: an ex-49er named Michael Robinson.
How Robinson became an ex 49er in 2010 was, and remains, one of the more puzzling personnel decisions in recent years. As you'll recall, then coach Mike Singletary insisted throughout that offseason that the 49ers would stress special teams and carve out roster spots for special teams standouts. Robinson was a special teams captain and a Pro-Bowl alternate for special teams in the two preceding seasons.
But when it came time to set the final roster, Singletary sang a different tune: "The bottom line is, we wanted more value," he said. "For someone to take up a roster spot, to do those things on special teams, it would have to warrant someone doing something spectacular."
The 49ers ended up keeping three young players on the active roster on cut-down day: Alex Boone, Tramaine Brock and Nate Davis.
Boone, of course, has been a tremendous addition, and he could start his first game at left tackle on Thursday with Joe Staley still recovering from a concussion. Davis was cut a few days later and replaced on the roster by Troy Smith.
Brock, meanwhile, has been serviceable. He's currently the team's fifth cornerback, and he's a core player on the coverage units. It's was Brock's from-behind tackle of Leodis McKelvin on Oct. 7 that saved a touchdown against the Bills.
Robinson, however, has meant vastly more to the Seahawks than Brock has to the 49ers. He's been their special teams captain the last two seasons, and he started in last year's Pro Bowl as a fullback. What Singletary and the 49ers overlooked - or at least undervalued - was his leadership, a missing element on the 49ers coverage units this season.
"The fact that he can be a star on special teams for us - he's in everything, he's on everything - and then go to the pro bowl as a fullback is a pretty good deal," Pete Carroll said this week. "We're thrilled to have him on our team. He's one of our captains again, and he's a true leader of the program."
Robinson also has taken rookie quarterback Russell Wilson under his wing. Both are from Richmond, Va., and Robinson - a quarterback at the time - was a high-school star at the same time Wilson's brother, Harrison, was an all-state player
"I knew more of him than actually knew him," Wilson said. "I used to watch him play. He grew up right down the street from me."
Robinson's background as a quarterback means he is a nice bridge between Wilson and the Seattle running backs, Wilson said. "We've gotten to know each other extremely well, ever since Day 1 I got in here," he said. "It's a pretty cool relationship, just the way that we bond together and we talk. It's a lot of fun."
-- Matt Barrows