Veteran Akers hopes to put tough season behind him By John McMullen, NFL Editor
David Akers missed an NFL-high 14 field goal attempts in 2012.
49ers fans are hoping Super Bowl XLVII doesn't come down to a David Akers kick.
That's the harsh reality for Akers, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the best kickers in NFL history.
A resume, though, even one as impressive as Akers' can't conceal the veteran's 2012 season which hangs over San Francisco's hopes to topple the Baltimore Ravens on the big stage like the sword of Damocles.
A year after making an NFL-record 44 field goals in his first season with San Francisco, Akers missed an NFL-high 14 field goal attempts in 2012 and made just nine of 19 tries of over 40 yards in what has been a season-long struggle, one which would have sent most other kickers to the unemployment line.
"I guess it's no different than a relief pitcher or a DB (defensive back) who got burned on a long play," Akers recently said when discussing his troubles. "You've got to go out and let your body mechanics take over. The team obviously has faith in me. They kept me here, so I'm going to go out and give everything I have every time. That's my mentality."
It's true 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has generally been positive when addressing Akers' problems but he also brought in veteran Billy Cundiff, a former Raven, to push his slumping kicker.
Akers postseason experience, 23 games in all, including Super Bowl XXXIX when he was with Philadelphia, likely weighed heavily in Harbaugh's ultimate decision to stick with the 38-year-old.
"We all have great faith in David," Harbaugh said. "He's done a lot for our team. I believe he's really been hitting the ball well consistently now for weeks. I can't agree that he is in a slump. All we can do is, we can make the snap, make the hold, give great protection, and him keep hitting the balls."
One of those balls clanked into a Georgia Dome upright in the NFC Championship Game, a 38-yarder which should have been a no-doubter indoors and just the latest miscue that has the Niners faithful on edge.
To Akers' credit he has refused to use the double sports hernia surgery he underwent a year ago as an excuse for his troubles.
"I've felt good all year," Akers said. "I've had a great practice season and training camp and pregame and all that So it's been kind of a head-scratcher."
Win or lose for San Francisco on Sunday, the head scratching is over. Akers will kick in the Super Bowl for the 49ers and it's time to find out if Harbaugh's faith pays off or proves to be blind.
"I'm still going to be positive about going into this game," Akers said. "We're 60 minutes from the possibility of being a world champion. That's a cool thought."
Below is a capsule look at the special teams of the San Francisco 49ers:
PUNTER: A three-time Pro Bowler, the monster-legged Andy Lee has already set the 49ers franchise record for most punting yards and also ranks first in franchise history with a 45.9 yard gross average. During his 2012 season, Lee led the NFL with a 43.2 net average, ranked third with 36 punts inside the 20 and made a few All-Pro teams. He's one of the best.
LONG-SNAPPER: Veteran long-snapper Brian Jennings is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and has even developed a program on the art and science of long snapping. Generally when a placekicker struggles, some of it has to do with inconsistent snapping or holding but that hasn't been the case in San Francisco.
PUNT RETURNERS: Kyle Williams was the goat in the 2011 NFC Championship Game, muffing a pair of punts which enabled the New York Giants to move on en route to a Super Bowl crown. Ted Ginn Jr, who was injured last reason, returned in 2012 and did a steady if unspectacular job, averaging 10.2 yards per return with a long of 38. Ginn has returned three kickoffs and three punts in his career for TDs but has lost some of that great long speed which made him so dangerous in the past.
KICKOFF RETURNERS: Since Williams went down Ginn and LaMichael James have
each gotten their fair share of kickoff returns with Ginn averaging 23.0 a pop and James up at 29.8 with a long of 62. Clearly James has more juice than Ginn at this stage but ball security will be paramount in this game and Ginn is considered the more secure option.
SPECIAL TEAMS DEFENSE: The 49ers coverage corps was great during the regular season on punt coverage and less so with the longer field on kickoffs, limiting teams to 6.9 yards per punt return and 26.9 on kickoffs. Backup cornerback Tramaine Brock, reserve linebacker Michael Wilhoite and veteran safety C.J. Spillman are the keys to San Francisco's coverage units.