Less than 24 hours before taking the field against the 49ers, Desmond King learned that he would be the punt returner.
"It was pretty last minute," King said in the locker room Sunday night. "I believe that they really trusted me back there, I did it — I was a little rusty, but I'm going to get back to what I'm used to doing."
The 5-10, 200-pound cornerback out of Iowa returned four punts on the day for a total of 82 yards. One of those punts he would've returned for a touchdown if he hadn't been tripped up by 49ers punter Bradley Pinion. Nonetheless, he returned the ball 56 yards to set up a Caleb Sturgis field goal to tie the score heading into halftime.
Last season, King returned one punt for two yards, and ever since then, he's been pushing to get back out there.
"I've been doing it for years – high school, college…" King remarked. "It's just a natural ability of mine. I used to play running back, so I guess it's all about catching the ball and (doing) what you can with the ball. I'm always preaching to them, 'Let me get back there. Let me return it. I want to go back there, let me do it.' And they gave me the opportunity. Coach Stew (Special Teams Coordinator George Stewart) came to me today and said, 'This is your opportunity. I'm proud of you. Go out there and do what you do best.' He believed in me."
Travis Benjamin and J.J. Jones previously served as the team's punt returns earlier this season. On Monday afternoon, Head Coach Anthony Lynn expressed how happy he was with King's performance and that he may trot the second-year player out there again.
"I think it's important for a returner to get into a rhythm," Lynn said. "Desmond averaged 20.5 yards per carry last night as a returner. I think he's in a pretty good rhythm right now, so I don't want to disrupt that."
King notes that it's his vision and ability to miss tackles that help him be a successful returner, and when asked if he sees himself as the returner going forward, he had one simple reply:
"Hopefully they continue to trust me with the ball in my hand."