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49ers Let Akers and Cundiff Compete

Posted Jan 3, 2013

For a postseason bye week, Thursday’s opening workout at 49ers headquarters featured quite the intrigue.

It also showcased arguably the most intense pre-practice, place-kicking from the two kickers on the 49ers roster. Both David Akers and recently signed veteran Billy Cundiff each alternated various kicks with coach Jim Harbaugh, special teams coordinator Brad Seely and even general manager Trent Baalke watching them strike field goals from 30-50-plus yards deep.

The rest of the kicking was under wraps as 49ers practice was closed to the media. But after the workout, both specialists offered a glimpse into their thought process heading into a unique postseason kicking situation.

Akers revealed he underwent surgery for a sports hernia last February and reaggrevated the injury late in the regular season. The 49ers kicker who has at least one made kick in all 32 regular season games with the 49ers, a team record, made no excuses for his recent struggles, but did inform the media of his injury.

“It’s been disappointing to say the least – two games came down to a missed kick and I hated to be the reason we tied one and lost another one,” Akers said of his 2012 regular season that saw him hit 69 percent of his field goals (29 of 44) and miss game-winning kicks in both of San Francisco’s games against the St. Louis Rams.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound kicker with 14 years of experience said he’s not over-thinking this week’s situation.

“My No. 1 goal is to do what I have to do to help the team out in every situation in the game,” said Akers, who has made 367 career field goals, including a 63-yard make this season that tied him for the longest kick in NFL history.“Right now, they’re making some decisions on if I’m going to be here or not.”

Cundiff, on the other hand, revealed he’s had seven tryouts this season after being released in training camp by the Baltimore Ravens and later in the year by the Washington Redskins, where he made 7 of 12 field goal attempts.

Two of Cundiff’s tryouts were with San Francisco, including the one that earned him a spot on the team’s 53-man roster over the weekend.

Cundiff, a 6-foot-1, 212-pound kicker with 106 games under his belt, spent Thanksgiving in the Bay Area after his workout with the 49ers and felt pleased with performance. Nonetheless, San Francisco proceeded with Akers, only to bring Cundiff back weeks later for another tryout.

“My minds been on taking care of my business, making sure that I’m ready whether the situation was going to be here or somewhere else,” Cundiff shared. “I’ve had a lot of workouts in… all over the country… I knew the second time when I came in something was up.”

For the rest of the week, it hasn’t been determinded just how long both men will compete in practice for the 49ers as the team leads up to a Jan. 12 NFL Divisional Playoff game at Candlestick Park. It’s not known who San Francisco will face, nor who will be the team’s starting placekicker that day.

Even so, the 49ers front office and coaching staff will need to determine who will handle kick-offs and field goals when postseason play begins.

“Under the circumstances, it’s out of my control on what they decided,” said Akers, downplaying if he’d been upset on the in-practice competition.

“I can’t really think of it as a competition because it’s going into the second weeks of the playoffs. I’m just going to practice how I normally practice and not put any more into it.”

Cundiff, a veteran kicker who’s converted 139 of 184 career kicks (75.5 percent), shares a similar approach with Akers. The two spent time at the 2010 Pro Bowl and both traded text messages ever since. They even shared the same kicking coach, Baltimore Ravens kicking consultant Randy Brown.

Even with that history, both kickers will be professional about the situation with the 49ers.

“I felt I kicked really well the first time I was here,” Cundiff explained. “For the second time, it was to go out, do my best and see if I can force the issue a bit.”

So while Cundiff aims to dethrone Akers as the team’s starting kicker, he understands that it won’t happen all at once.

“For me, it’s been laid out very clearly,” Cundiff said. “It’s, go out and practice well. Don’t worry about anything else, just give us your best and it’s the head coach’s decision and the management’s decision on who will kick.

“I’m not going to worry about anything else. I’m going to have the best practice I can have.”­

Akers shares that mindset.

“It’s been one of those ups and down years,” said the 2011 All-Pro who made a league-record 44 made field goals his first year with the 49ers.  

“I take my job seriously,” Akers continued. “I feel when I miss kicks that I let the team, the organization, and the fans down. I take it personal. Sometimes I care too much about it, but that’s just who I am.

Approach might be similar between the kickers, but technically, they’re as opposite as can be.

Akers is left-footed; Cundiff is a right-footed kicker.

The adjustment appears to be more on longsnapper Brian Jennings and holder Andy Lee.

However, Cundiff views it differently.

“The onus,” he said, “is really on me to make sure I’m getting on their page and not the other way around.”

Cundiff took time to explain his strike angle during his warm-up time with Lee. The duo was in constant communication while Harbaugh, Seely, Baalke and a number of media members watched warm-ups.

“It’s going to be up to management and what they decide,” Akers said. “I’m going to keep kicking like I have in practice and hopefully it’ll transfer to the game eventually.”

It might be unique to those outside the profession, but Cundiff stressed the professionalism that goes into kicking competitions.

“If you flip it around here and get in our shoes then you understand the business a bit,” Cundiff detailed. “It’s about performance.

“At this time of the year, I’m just lucky to try and put my best performance out there and see if it’s good enough.”

That’s also why Cundiff consistently wrote the week of the NFL regular season schedule on the whiteboard of his in-house gym, located in his garage.

“I was always mentally prepared for any situation,” Cundiff explained. “I’ve been doing this for awhile… For me, I understood that any time you can get a call. It’s truly my fault if I’m not prepared. So mentally, I made sure I was prepared. And physically, I made sure I was ready to go. That way, if I got a call like this I could step right in and perform at a high level.”

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