49ers bring in Lewis to replace struggling punt returner Williams

Updated: September 25, 2007, 8:52 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers changed punt returners on Tuesday, cutting Brandon Williams and signing Michael Lewis, the former beer truck driver who rose to fame with the New Orleans Saints.

Michael Lewis

Lewis

Williams, the 49ers' third-round pick in 2006, never was particularly impressive as the 49ers' designated punt returner, and the former Wisconsin star couldn't crack San Francisco's rotation of receivers.

The 49ers averaged just 6.4 yards on their punt returns in three games, and Williams made a key fumble to set up a touchdown by the St. Louis Rams in San Francisco's 17-16 victory last week.

Lewis is the cult hero known as "Beer Man" in his native Louisiana because he drove a beer truck before making the Saints' roster as a 29-year-old rookie in 2001. A Pro Bowl selection in 2002, Lewis is New Orleans' career leader in both kick returns and punt returns -- but the club cut him in June.

Lewis injured his left knee in 2005 and missed much of last season while the Saints advanced to the NFC Championship Game. He will be reunited in San Francisco with special teams coordinator Al Everest, who held the same position with the Saints for six years.

"We are picking up a player who has been there and knows what it is supposed to look like," Everest said. "I am looking forward to Michael getting a fresh start on our team."

Former Pro Bowl safety Michael Lewis also starts for the 49ers, who signed him from Philadelphia as a free agent in March.

San Francisco also signed linebacker Tyson Smith to the practice squad, filling the roster spot that opened up when fullback Zak Keasey went to the active roster in place of injured linebacker Manny Lawson. Smith spent part of last season with the New York Giants.