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           === Veteran Akers hopes to put tough season behind him ===
 
 By John McMullen, NFL Editor
 
 (Sports Network) - 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 as 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.
 
 
 
 
 01/29 11:32:20 ET

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