49ers Mailbag: Getting Vernon Davis involved

Matt & Mindi: Who looked better in practice, Akers or Cundiff?

49ers Mailbag: Getting Vernon Davis involved
January 5, 2013, 9:00 am
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The 49ers are off for the weekend.

Yes, even newly signed kicker Billy Cundiff is in Arizona with his family for a couple of days. The 49ers are scheduled to report back to their Santa Clara practice facility Monday for a 12:30 p.m. special teams meeting.

The 49ers spent at least a portion of Friday's practice working on the Green Bay Packers, as evidenced by the jerseys the 49ers practice-squad skill players wore -- Chad Hall in the role of Randall Cobb, Ricardo Lockette as Jordy Nelson and Garrett Celek as Jermichael Finley.

That's understandable. If the Packers defeat the Minnesota Vikings this evening, the Packers will be locked in as the 49ers' divisional found opponent next Saturday at Candlestick Park, 5 p.m.

If the Vikings win today, the 49ers would play host to Sunday's Seattle-Washington winner next week.

Let's go to the 49ers Mailbag to kick off the weekend with some answers to the questions on everybody's mind . . .

Do you think the Niners are going to try to utilize Vernon Davis more in the playoffs? (Nick Gillo)
Yes, they'll try. But will their playoff opponent(s) allow them to succeed?

A year ago, Vernon Davis got hot late in the regular season and carried that momentum into the playoffs. He was really the only offensive threat the 49ers had. Running back Frank Gore averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt in the two playoff games, but he carried just 29 times in those games.

Meanwhile, Davis caught 10 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the games against New Orleans and the New York Giants. He was outstanding.

This season is the exact opposite. Davis could not be more cold as the playoff open.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- and before him, Alex Smith -- are instructed to throw to the open receiver. And Davis has not gotten open this season, as defenses have competely discouraged the 49ers from thowing to him.

He was not having a productive pass-catching season with Smith at quarterback, and his offensive output has been even lower with Kaepernick. Davis called it chemistry. I'm not sure what to label it. But I do believe Davis has a difficult time handling the laser-like throws of Kaepernick. On Friday during a passing drill, I saw a Kaepernick pass on an intermediate cross route go right through Davis' hands.

Clearly, Kaepernick has a lot of confidence in Michael Crabtree -- and for good reason. But if the 49ers are going to get very far in the playoffs, they need a more well-rounded offense with Crabtree, Gore and, especially, Davis stepping up and creating plays.

Who do you think wins the kicking battle? (Joey Gándar)
It's pretty clear that Cundiff has the stronger leg. And that should come as no surprise, as his kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks with far greater frequency than David Akers' in recent seasons.

Cundiff is coming into a new situation with a blank slate. He has the simpler path to landing the job. Things got so bad for Akers in the final regular-season game that he was loudly booed at Candlestick Park.

The first time Akers is called upon to attempt a field goal in the playoffs, the home fans are going to groan. I can't see how those vibes would help a kicker in any way.

Akers revealed this week he had surgery in February for a double sports hernia and that he aggravated the condition when he fell on a kickoff against the New Orleans Saints in late-November. There just seems to be too much going on with him right now.

The media is not allowed to view practices, so I can't give you any first-hand, eye-witness accounts -- other than what I see in warmups. But you can be assured general manager Trent Baalke, coach Jim Harbaugh and special-teams coordinator Brad Seely will be studying every move of Akers and Cundiff to analyze the mental side as much as the physical.

The 49ers do not have to make a decision on their kicker until the last minute, and I'd expect them gather as much information as possible before making the final call. As CSN Bay Area analyst Joe Nedney said this week, there's a lot of "noise" going on right now with Akers. That's why I consider Cundiff the favorite.

What's your take on Ginn on punt returns? He seems shaky. James is more than capable. (Dan Matteson)
Ted Ginn did not lose a fumble last season. He lost one this season. He averaged 12.3 yards per punt return, including a 55-yard TD in the season-opener against Seattle, a year ago. This time around, he averaged a very respectable 10.2 yards.

You're right, Ginn does not seem as steady as a year ago. But there is no question whatsoever that he is the best man for the job.

Rookie LaMichael James gets a lot of work catching punts in practices, but he is not even the No. 2 return man. If the 49ers needed to call on a backup for Ginn, the next person up would be Perrish Cox.

The 49ers tried James in the exhibition season, and he muffed three punts while handling six returns (5.3-yard average) and three fair catches. He was shaky on a couple others, too. So while James might be the return man of the future, there is no way he was ready for that responsibility this season.