In this week's Teams Talk column, two-time Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee shares his thoughts on the special teams aspect of the 49ers upcoming game against the Seattle Seahawks.**I think I've been hitting the ball well this season. We've had to deal with a lot of elements this year – windy games Candlestick Park, it was about 12 degrees with the wind chill Green Bay last week and there were gusts of wind around 30 miles per hour – but I think overall the ball has been coming off of my foot well.
When I think back on our first game against Seattle, as a special teams unit, we were still trying to jell as a group. We had a lot of new guys on our special teams and a new coach, so we were just trying to figure everything out. We learned a lot about ourselves that day, but the biggest thing we learned is that we could play and that we'd be alright for the season.
That game was a long time ago and it's hard to remember the specifics, but one thing I can say is that we have a big challenge this week. Seattle has a solid special teams group, but all we can do is play hard and focus on what we have to do. If we can do those two things I think we'll be fine.
Our special teams personnel has changed quite a bit since Week 1, and our young guys have improved by leaps and bounds. We still have a lot of room to grow, but compared to the way we started the season to where we are now, it's drastically better.
One of the biggest changes to our special teams is now we have Jeff Reed kicking instead of Joe Nedney, who is still out with his knee injury. Jeff is a very accomplished kicker with nine good seasons under his belt. He is a proven kicker, so to be able to bring someone like that in here is great.
As his holder it's definitely different because Joe was a lefty and Jeff is right-footed. It's completely opposite. But I have a lot of experience holding for righties, it's all I had ever done before teaming up with Joe in 2005; I held for righties in high school, college and my rookie season.
I don't know when the last time was Jeff kicked in Candlestick Park, but I'm sure he'll do fine. He did great with the elements last week in Green Bay, and Hines Field in Pittsburgh is also a difficult place to kick.
While kickers have to be very concerned with the wind, it's a little bit different for punters. All I can do is go out there and strike the ball the best I can. After it leaves my foot there's nothing I can do about it so I just try to give it a good chance. If you go out there trying to figure out what the wind is doing, you're going to be unsuccessful because you're worrying about too much. All you can do is hit a solid ball and hope for the best.
When I'm out there punting, I have to be aware of who is lined up to return it for them. I know Seattle has a couple of guys in Golden Tate and Leon Washington who can do some good things in the return game, and I have to do some different things for each of them. During the week you prepare for it, so that way you don't have to think about it much on Sunday. You just go execute what you learned and practiced all week.
As far as our return game is concerned, Ted Ginn Jr. has been great these last couple of weeks. Say he returns one 10 yards, 20 yards, 30 yards – those 10-yard increments are each a first down for the offense. So if he didn't have a return at all, it could take five, six or seven plays to gain those 30 yards. It's definitely a spark when you can start with good field position because the offense goes out there knowing they have a great chance to score.
Hopefully Ted can get some more of those, and hopefully our special teams can contribute to a win on Sunday.