49ers' dicey kicker scenario
Billy Cundiff: "It's the head coach's decision, management's decision, on who's going to kick. So I'm not going to worry about anything else." (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SANTA CLARA -- Times have changed dramatically since the 2010 Pro Bowl, when David Akers was selected to kick for the NFC and Billy Cundiff represented the best of the AFC.
Now, they're both clinging to NFL employment as teammates -- at least for now -- with the 49ers.
The Great Kicker Competition of 2013 is apparently off to a good start for the challenger Billy Cundiff. In their first practice together, both lined up for "about five kicks" on Thursday in front of the team during 90-minute practice, Cundiff said.
And how did it go?
"Not bad. Not bad," Cundiff said. "We're getting the hang of this thing. . . I'd like to do the best I possibly can. Try to get in rhythm with the guys. So it will get better. It will definitely get better."
Akers, who earlier Thursday revealed he underwent surgery in February for a double sports hernia, has experienced his share of problems this season with the 49ers. He made 29 of 42 field-goal attempts during the regular season, including four misses in the final three games. He also missed overtime kicks against the St. Louis Rams that turned two potential victories into a tie and a loss.
Cundiff, who had seven tryouts for teams this season, is trying to battle back from his own issues. He missed a 32-yard field goal for the potential game-tying points late in the AFC Championship game to prevent the Baltimore Ravens from an opportunity to defeat the New England Patriots and move on to the Super Bowl.
The Ravens cut Cundiff at the end of training camp. He hooked on with the Washington Redskins, and he was released after converting just 7 of his 12 kicks.
Depending on how he performs in practices with the 49ers, Cundiff could get another opportunity for a pressure kick in the playoffs with coach Jim Harbaugh -- not John Harbaugh.
"Anybody who plays in the playoffs and doesn't have the kind of performance they like, they'd like to have another opportunity," Cundiff said of his miss with the Ravens last year.
"For me, I moved on the minute -- right after -- it happened. Because I think in order to have success in this league, you have to wipe the slate clean every year. You can't drag things, whether it's positive or negative, because each year is brand new.
"Would I like to have that kick back? Yeah, most definitely I would. But is it going to affect the way I think about this year's playoffs? Absolutely not. Because this is a brand-new situation. I've already been on a different team. I left Baltimore. I went to Washington. I'm not there any more. I'm here. I've got a completely different situation. Everything about it is completely different. Now, if it was exactly the same, yeah, we could talk about redemption. But you'll never get that same situation."
Cundiff and Akers share the same kicking coach, and they have worked out with each other in the past. As unsettled as things stand with the 49ers set to open the playoffs as the No. 2 seed on Jan. 12, Cundiff said he does not view it as an awkward situation.
"You just accept it as part of the business," Cundiff said. "It's really just about performance, so I just put it under those terms and that takes all the awkwardness out of it. It's a performance business."
And Cundiff said he has been told to perform well in practice and leave the thinking and analyzing to the 49ers decision-makers.
"For me, it has been laid out very clearly," Cundiff said. "It’s, 'Go out and practice well, (and) don't worry about anything else. Just give us your best.'
"It's the head coach's decision, management's decision, on who's going to kick. So I'm not going to worry about anything else. I'm just going to go out there and try to have the best practices I can."