Lee, punt coverage team close in on record


Lee, punt coverage team close in on record

SANTA CLARA -- Two games stand between 49ers punter Andy Lee and an NFL record.Lee, the leading NFC vote-getter in the fans ballot for the Pro Bowl and the NFC special-teams player of the week, is having one of the best seasons of any punter in NFL history.
His average of 50.4 yards on 71 punts is the third-highest for a single season the league has ever seen. And his net average of 44.14 currently ranks as the best, ahead of Shane Lechler's 43.85 average of 2009. Net average has been compiled as an official NFL statistic since 1976.RELATED: NFL stats leaders
Net average is considered the greatest measure of a punter because of the team aspect of the statistic. Lee has given his coverage unit the best chance to surround the punt returner with his directional punting and hang time. Lee's punts almost always are angled outside the numbers, toward the sideline, to help direct the return man into the teeth of the coverage team."I'm hitting the ball well, and the guys are covering," Lee said. "The guys are just going out there and getting down the field. I'm able to hit my ball and I don't have to worry about anything."I know, 'Hey, we're going right,' or 'We're going left,' and I just go out and kick it."Lee can't recall ever having a game like the one Monday night in the 49ers' 20-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. His gross average was 47.5 yards. But his net average was 49.2 yards after explosive Steelers return man Antonio Brown back-tracked late in the game for a minus-10-yard return.Chris Culliver, Blake Costanzo, Larry Grant, NaVorro Bowman, Anthony Dixon, C.J. Spillman, Colin Jones and long-snapper Brian Jennings teamed up to hustle down field and bottle up Brown. Tavares Gooden was credited with the tackle.The 49ers were punting from the 11-yard line. And after the minus return and an illegal block above the waist, the Steelers took over at their own 12-yard line -- an unbelievable 77-yard flip in field position.
"I owe a lot to my guys," Lee said. "They've given me confidence to just go out and have fun. And there's nothing better than that."

Ward injures hamstring under team supervision, placed on PUP


Ward injures hamstring under team supervision, placed on PUP

SANTA CLARA – Safety Jimmie Ward was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list to open training camp with a hamstring injury, the 49ers announced Friday morning.

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan stated on Thursday that all of their players were healthy and no players would be headed to PUP or the non-football injury list.

But that was before the 49ers were scheduled to have their conditioning test. Ward sustained the injury on Thursday during the team's conditioning test. The team lists him as "week to week."

He can be activated to begin practice at any time. Ward is also eligible to begin the regular season on the PUP list. Any player who opens the regular season on PUP is ineligible for the first six weeks of the season.

Ward is expected to be one of the key members of the 49ers' defense from the free safety position. His role is dubbed "The Eraser," fellow safety Eric Reid said, because of his role as a playmaker in the secondary. However, one of the major questions about Ward is his ability to remain healthy through the rigors of an NFL season.

Ward missed eight games as a rookie due to a foot injury. Last year, he sat out five games due to a shoulder injury.

Hyde 'flipped a switch' this offseason, sets lofty goal in contract year

Hyde 'flipped a switch' this offseason, sets lofty goal in contract year

SANTA CLARA – Carlos Hyde has been the 49ers' unchallenged starter since the organization allowed Frank Gore to leave in free agency after the 2014 season.

Finally, he has been challenged.

The 49ers drafted Joe Williams in the fourth round, signed veteran Tim Hightower and acquired Kapri Bibbs in a trade. Moreover, Hyde appears to be challenging himself, too.

“My goal is to be the No. 1 rushing running back in this league,” Hyde said. “I feel like I have the best opportunity to do that now with this new staff.”

General manager John Lynch said he has noticed Hyde “flipped a switch” in the offseason. Hyde remained in the Bay Area to use the 49ers’ facilities to work out and eat at the team’s cafeteria. At one point, he even asked coach Kyle Shanahan about being included on special teams.

Hyde reported to training camp Thursday at 228 pounds – the least he has weighed since his high-school days, he said. Hyde could be a good fit for Shanahan’s running scheme.

“It’s outside zone, which is downhill. I’m a downhill back. I feel like I fit the scheme very well,” said Hyde, who enters the final year of his contract.

Hyde had career-best totals of 988 yards and six touchdowns last season with a 4.6-yard average. Although the 49ers could use more a multi-pronged approach at running back, Hyde could be set up for a career year heading into free agency.

“I ran into him in the hall and he looks tremendous,” Lynch said. “He really has dedicated himself. He’s changed his body type this offseason and that to me at the least bit shows a commitment. There’s those stories, but we’re excited to see this whole thing as we take the next step.”