The San Francisco 49ers’ dancing special teamers have been a rallying cry of sorts during the deep playoff runs of the last two seasons. After the unit lost core players Tavares Gooden and Delanie Walker, there’s a batch of new players learning the choreography.
Free-agent signee Kassim Osgood, a three-time time Pro-Bowler for his special teams work, appears to be fitting right in – but not necessarily for of his dancing.
"I’m like the new court jester in town,” Osgood said.
Osgood came back to California after growing up in nearby Salinas. He spent seven seasons with the San Diego Chargers before two in Jacksonville. Last year he played for the Detroit Lions and recovered a Kendall Hunter fumble on a kickoff in Week 2’s loss at Candlestick.
“It’s always a pain to go against (the 49ers)," Osgood said. "It’s like ‘man, they’re having so much fun over there while we’re over here grinding. They’re beating us and winning and just partying and having a good time.’ It’s good to see that."
And now that he’s apart of it?
“It’s fun. It’s like recess.”
Despite being known as one of the most aggressive coverage teams in the league, the 49ers’ kickoff unit let them down when it mattered most in the Super Bowl. Jacoby Jones opened the second half with a 108-yard return giving the Ravens the last touchdown they would score in their three-point victory. A whiff at the 15-yardline might have been the most important - and backbreaking – missed tackle of the season.
Six months later in the 49ers’ preseason-opener against the Broncos, Osgood opened the second half with by tackling return specialist Trindon Holliday at the 6-yard line in kickoff coverage. He finished the night with two of the team’s six special teams tackles and earned praise from head coach Him Harbaugh for his efforts following the game.
"Kassim did a great job on on the open field tackle on kickoff," Harbaugh said. "He had a tough catch on the boundary on offense. Played with a lot of energy. Looked good."
But while San Francisco signed Osgood with special teams in mind, they were unlikely to forecast the wide-open competition at wide receiver that’s been the talk of training camp. Michael Crabtree’s torn Achilles and Mario Manningham’s rehab from his knee injury has allowed for a spirited and well-documented race for snaps.
In the 10-6 loss to the Broncos, Osgood finished second on the team with three catches for 34 yards.
It’s a situation Osgood, 33, has not been in since his he was trying to crack the Chargers’ 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie in 2003.
“Right now my main focus is to come in right now, receiver by committee, do what we can do to progress through the games and generate some wins and get (Manningham) and (Crabtree) back too,” he said.
After lettering in football, basketball and track at North Salinas High, Osgood stayed local and went to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo after not getting any offers from Division I programs. As a sophomore, he led the nation in receiving yards and set a NCAA I-AA record with 376 receiving yards against Northern Iowa – the same game he set a school record with 17 receptions.
But in order to garner more exposure for pro scouts, Osgood transferred to San Diego State for his final two seasons. He was only eligible as a senior. He made the most of it with 108 receptions, 1,552 yards and eight scores. But he went undrafted and latched on to the Chargers. The move paid off for San Diego as he lasted seven years earning trips to the Pro Bowl in 2006, 2007 and 2009 as a gunner on special teams.
“Special teams is that dagger you have in that sheath behind your back when you have the broad sword, and you’re swinging that big sword,” Osgood said. “And suddenly they have you unarmed and suddenly you pull that dagger out and you get them. This year, we have to really polish it up.”
At 6’5” and 220 pounds, Osgood is the biggest wideout on the 90-man roster. But while he was busy being a productive receiver in college, there wasn’t much time for special teams. Osgood didn’t emphasize special teams work until his roster spot was on the line with the Chargers. And with Keenan McCardell, Vincent Jackson, Reche Caldwell and Antonio Gates as teammates, Osgood had a hard time getting snaps. His play on special teams was his only way to maintain an NFL career.
“I’ve been playing with a lot of guys that are great receivers. Being able to learn from each one of them and get into spot play whenever I can, it’s just been fun for me,” Osgood said.
While at school in San Luis Obispo, Osgood became friendly with MMA star Chuck Liddell, who was from there and had his own training facility. Osgood took up MMA training as a way to strengthen and his hands for getting off the line of scrimmage.
“You have guys holding you – because a lot of holding goes on – just being able to get off of that, just being able to use your body strength and use your body control,” he said.
Osgood met Liddell when he came to offer a guest lecture in a martial arts class, showing the proper technique on how to kick. Liddell kicked a punching bag Osgood was tending and the impact sent him to the ground. They’ve been friends ever since.
Aside from Anquan Boldin, the 49ers most established option might be Austin Collie, who is coming off a patella injury and multiple concussions. Boldin, Kyle Williams and rookie Quinton Patton appear to be favorites to land roster spots. That puts Osgood in competition with Marlon Moore, A.J. Jenkins, Chad Hall, Lavelle Hawkins, Ricardo Lockette and Chuck Jacobs. With six players competing for two or three spots, special teams could be a deciding factor.
Should Osgood make the team, he’ll have the opportunity to celebrate with a dance alongside his fellow special teamers when the season kicks off September 8 against Green Bay.