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If Andy Lee can execute his "knuckle punt" on Thursday, he might try it during the regular season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SANTA CLARA -- The preseason finale is typically the most uneventful game on the NFL schedule for most of the players already assured a spot on a 53-man roster. The only action required of them is three hours of standing. Yet Andy Lee is eager to play Thursday in San Diego, and he is eager to play a lot. Specifically, the All-Pro punter is hoping for a few fair-catch situations where he's working around midfield.
He's looking for the perfect opportunity to break out his knuckle punt.
"It's definitely something I want to do in a game to see how it actually happens in a live situation," Lee said. "In practice, you can do things and you can mimic as much as you can, but you never really know how a new thing you're going to do is going to react in a game situation. So I'd love to hopefully be able to pull it out and try it and see if it's something I can work in my regular routine."
Kyle Williams vividly remembers the first time Lee sent a knuckle punt his way. It came during a special teams practice his rookie year.
"I turned to Ted Ginn and said, ‘What the hell was that?'" Williams said. "It's just like a knuckleball in baseball. It's floating up there, and it will change direction probably three or four times within the last 5 yards, 10 yards, and then it's right there. It's tough to deal with."
Lee is already one of the top punters in league history due to his mastery of several variations of a regular punt and a rugby punt. He learned about the knuckle punt from former teammate, kicker Joe Nedney. Nedney was introduced to it by the punt's originator, Craig Hentrich, during their time together with the Tennessee Titans. Lee's been working on the punt ever since Nedney left.
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"I still haven't gotten to a point where I've really solidified it," Lee said. "I can do it kind of on the side (in practice), and then when I get with the team it gets a little shaky. So I'm trying to really figure out how to get it done."
Lee believes the unique weather conditions in the 49ers home stadium combined with the unpredictability of the knuckle punt could create a dangerous combination for returners.
"In Candlestick, it's pretty windy and the ball can move around. So when it comes off, you want it to move a little bit, but more like a slow, slow, real slow rotation that kind of moves around, and it can be harder for the returner to catch." Lee said. "It can cause some fumbles. It can do some things like that, and sometimes when I hit the rugby punt it will come out a little slower rotation so it's kind of that same idea except making it move maybe four rotations the whole time it's in the air."
Williams needs no convincing, no matter what the stadium.
"It's literally sideways, and then it just kind of shifts around," Williams said. "It moves around. It's tough. If he can get that down all the time, that's going to be tough to deal with."
If Lee is able to pull off the knuckle punt Thursday, there may just be an eventful preseason finale, after all.