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SANTA CLARA -- For the second straight season, 49eres kicker Phil Dawson is learning the intricacies of a different home stadium.
He readily admits it’s not going well this preseason. The Pro Bowl kicker missed 55- and 44-yard field-goal attempts against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in the 49ers’ 34-0 exhibition loss at Levi’s Stadium.
“I didn’t kick them as well as I would have liked to, but I didn’t feel like I completely mishit the ball either,” Dawson explained. “I kicked pretty solidly in pregame, felt like I had a good plan for what to do and the flags and the whole deal. And then I get in the game expecting everything to go right to left, aim a little right, and it went right. So you can’t aim right and have it go right. Note to self.”
The 16-year-veteran is taking as many notes as possible on his team’s new stadium. He is not alone. Last season, Dawson leaned on punter Andy Lee and his nine years of experience playing in the swirling winds at Candlestick Park. This preseason, Lee is just as befuddled as Dawson.
“I’m at about 50-50,” Lee said of his first game experience at Levi’s Stadium. “It definitely has some areas where the ball flies and has some areas where the ball gets held up by the wind or does some different things.
“Even on my first pooch punt I was a little confused on it because in pregame the ball was kind of falling to the left. It was holding it up a little bit, wasn’t going as far. And then that one fell to the right, carried a little more, hit at the 2 (yard line). It still wasn’t a horrible, horrible ball but it wasn’t in the area I wanted it to go that my gunners thought the ball was going to be at.”
The field at Levi’s Stadium is a five-minute walk from the 49ers practice fields, but both Dawson and Lee say they’ve kicked less than a half-dozen times in the new facility. Their goal is to get in there as many times as possible, and at different times of the day, to try and figure out the wind patterns and any other details that will give them that coveted home-field advantage.
“The interesting part is the flags don’t really tell the whole story,” Dawson said. “The flags up top are always the same. The flags on the uprights are constantly changing. One thing we are going to run into around here is your pregame warm up. We come in around 11:30, and the wind hasn’t really picked up. Anyone who lives around here knows the winds start generally around 1, so what you learn in pregame may not necessarily help you at all once the game starts.”
Said Lee, “There are times where the goalpost flags are going opposite directions … and they are 6 yards apart. When that’s happening it’s like, ‘What’s going on?’
“It’s not quite as gusty as Candlestick. It’s more constant than Candlestick. I really don’t know what’s going on with it right now.”
Dawson and Lee understand it will take time to understand what is going on with Levi’s Stadium. Until they do, they’ll rely on their 25 years of combined NFL kicking experience and what got them into the league in the first place.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’m going to have that place figured out anytime soon,” Dawson said. “The best you can do is show up on those game days and figure out a way to get them through.”