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49ers’ Ronnie Bell ready to step in for Ray-Ray McCloud on punt returns

Aug 13, 2023 at 11:30 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers lost Ray-Ray McCloud to a broken wrist. The wide receiver and punt returner is expected to miss about eight weeks after undergoing surgery on Friday.

That means the 49ers will have to find a replacement. They'll first focus their attention in-house before searching the free-agent market. One player who excels at the job is fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Although, the coaches would prefer to find someone who isn't a key starter on offense.

"Hopefully, we have a few other guys before our fullback is out there," head coach Kyle Shanahan said last week.

One of those other guys might be rookie wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who is ready for the challenge if the coaches call his name.

"I feel like I fit in very well (on punt returns)," Bell said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. "I was already really excited about being back there, returning punts, and getting that opportunity throughout this training camp. And now, it's unfortunate that Ray-Ray is down, but it definitely gives that opportunity again, for me, to show that even more."

Bell admits that he has received more practice reps returning punts since McCloud's injury and has been pleased with his performance.

Asked what it takes to be a returner, Bell responded, "When you're back there, just having the confidence that you know you're going to field it, and you're going to catch it and make a play."

During his time at Michigan, the 49ers rookie returned only 13 punts and two kickoffs, so he doesn't have a ton of in-game experience at the job. That doesn't mean he wasn't prepared to do it.

"Well, every year, I was always in it, and then I got injured the year that I was going to do it the whole time, and so that was unfortunate as well," Bell shared. "I have experience doing it, though, because I feel like every year, even my freshman year, it was like, 'Okay, this game, I got, like, two punts.' Sophomore year was like, 'This game, I got a couple of punts. That game, I got a couple of punts.' And same thing—it was always throughout just random times."

Bell admits that he campaigned each year to be the Wolverines' punt returner, but it was often someone else's job, or injuries got in the way. There was always some other reason keeping him from doing it.

Bell might be able to show off what he can do this afternoon when the 49ers open their exhibition schedule against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.

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