49ers' special teams vastly improve

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Through five games, the San Francisco 49ers’ emphasis on improving the coverage units on special teams has been a success.

The unit is allowing 21.4 yards per kickoff return. Last year, it gave up a whopping 26.9 yards per return. Against punts, the 49ers are strong as well, allowing 7.4 yards per return.

The unit was particularly strong the past two weeks, at St. Louis and against Houston. Monday, 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh heaped by praise on the unit.

It has to be satisfying for the coaching start after a rough 2012 season, which culminated in allowing a kickoff return in a Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.

The unit has been fast and looks to be working together. Newcomers Kassim Osgood and Bubba Ventrone have been fine additions be a unit that has been led by C.J. Spillman, who is having another strong season.

“I think the key is we have good players,” Ventrone said. “We’re pleased with everything so far. We’re playing as one.”

He noted that the 49ers’ coverage unit will be challenged Sunday by Arizona punt returner Patrick Peterson. Ventrone said he thinks Peterson may be the best punt returner in the NFL.

“It’s going to be a stiff test,” Ventrone said. “We can’t play a guy like that cautiously. We have to stay true to our plan and execute.”

Thus far, that plan was produced strong results for this revamped unit.