49ers Preview: Celebrating the specialness

As we approach the season I'll be putting together various forms of previews for the 49ers 2007 roster.  As there will be plenty of positional battles throughout training camp, I've decided to start with positions where there will be significantly less competition.  Aside from kickers and punters, special team as a whole includes your punt and kick returners, gunners, wedge busters and various other crazy individuals just trying to make an impact.  For today though, we're going to concentrate on the real heroes of a football team: the kicker and the punter.

In all honesty, Andy Lee has been a model of consistency in his 3 years as a 49er and Joe Nedney has been a significantly better option than the likes of Jeff Chandler or Jose "Baby" Cortez.  I can recall many times during those 2-14 years where you could say with a straight face that Lee was the MVP of the game for the 49ers.

Andy Lee - Punter

Lee may look like a 15 year old when he's out on the field punting, but his consistency and improvement this past year is impressive.  The difference between first and last place in punting average last year was 8.0 yards.  Mat McBriar of the Cowboys led the league with an average of 48.2 yards per punt and Jeff Feagles of the Giants was last at 40.2 yards per punt, with Andy Lee falling right in the middle at 44.8.  Lee dropped his punts inside the 20 at a rate of 27.2% and had touchbacks 11.1% of the time.

The one stat that I was most pleased with about Lee was that in 3 years, he's only had 1 punt blocked.  Other than that, I find it somewhat difficult to consider the statistics for a punter.  For example, the average amount of yards returned on a punt seems a little deceptive to me.  Say you've got a big leg and you are on a bad team that punts quite often from your own side of the field.  You could be punting the ball 50-60 yards, but because of field position, the returner has more room to gain some extra yards.  Any thoughts on that issue?  Either way, considering he was a 6th round pick in 2004, I think he's worked out quite nicely.  His cap figure maxes out at $1.377 million by 2012, but I'm not particularly worried.  While he might not be a spectacular punter, I'll take a solid, but sure thing, rather than hope we find someone off the street.

Joe Nedney - Kicker

While Joe Nedney was not spectacular last year, he finished right in the middle of the pack 16th overall at 82.9%.  Over at Football Outsiders, the 49ers finished 16th in DVOA for field goals and extra points.  Matt Maiocco probably said it best in his blog:

But the 49ers spent a lot of time in the offseason working on ways to make Nedney obsolete. Actually, all they want to do is turn a lot of those FG attempts into PAT tries. One of the team's top priorities in the offseason was working on its red-zone offense.

Nedney finished tied for 5th in the league in field goal attempts and 23rd in extra point attempts.  Like the crossing of the streams in Ghostbusters, if we can bring the field goal attempts down and the extra point attempts up, we might just be able to destroy the Stay Puft Marshallow Man, or the Seattle Seahawks...whatever you prefer.

Overview
I've always found it hard to analyze a middle of the road kicker and punter.  They get the job done, which is all you can really ask of the two positions.  It seems like you only hear about the kicker when he makes or misses a big kick.  Neither Nedney or Lee have led the league in categories, but they just quietly do their job.  As I mentioned, if the team can improve in the red zone and force Nedney to stay on the sidelines more, I would be a very happy fan.  And as for Andy Lee, well I really don't have a whole lot to say.  Considering the wind factor at Candlestick, he's done a phenomenal job in my opinion.  He's resigned through 2012 and I'm perfectly content with that.  If anybody else has something more substantial to contribute on either position, I'm all ears.

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