Joe Nedney and Andy Lee: Masters of Their Craft for the 49ers
It's a little bit weird to say this, but the San Francisco 49ers' greatest strength is special teams.
Yes, I said special teams simply because San Francisco 49er kicker Joe Nedney and punter Andy Lee are just really, really good at what they do.
Not since the days of Ray Wersching have the 49ers had so much stability at kicker.
Since then, it has looked like a traveling circus.
Mike Cofer, who also wore No. 6, beat out Wersching during the decline of his career and looked like a pretty good kicker when he made the Pro Bowl in 1989.
But things didn't last for the strong-legged Cofer.
Fans lost faith in him in the early 1990s as he missed several short field goals—the lowest point coming in 1991, when he made just 13 of 25 attempts.
In 1993, Cofer was released after he made an offensive gesture to a jeering Candlestick crowd that was angry at another missed attempt.
Then came Cal product Doug Brien, who also wore the No. 4 for San Francisco. He was a relatively high draft pick (third round, 85th overall) in the 1994 NFL Draft and had a lot of promise.
Brien would have a dream rookie season, sitting on the bench most of the time except when he had to kick extra points for one of the most offensively explosive teams in NFL history, the 1994 world champion San Francisco 49ers.
But the Cofer syndrome hit Brien the next year, culminating in his release in the middle of the 1995 season.
Veteran Tony Zendejas became a stopgap solution until Jeff Wilkins beat him out for the starter's spot.
The inconsistent Wilkins became a serviceable kicker for the 49ers, but San Francisco declined to match St. Louis' offer and lost him to the Rams in 1997.
Then came the infamous Gary Anderson.
Many of us remember Mr. Anderson for being the first kicker to have a perfect season, successfully making every field goal and extra point during the 1998 regular season.
But that glory was short-lived.
With Minnesota leading 27-20 with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter of the 1999 NFC Championship game, Anderson lined up for a 38-yard field goal attempt to give the Vikings a two-possession lead.
A converted attempt would have potentially earned the Vikings their first Super Bowl appearance since Fran Tarkenton wore a uniform for the Purple People Eaters. Anderson missed, his only one of the year, giving the Atlanta Falcons a chance for the comeback.
I think we remember what happened next.
As a 49er, Anderson converted all extra point attempts and over 80 percent of his field goals in 1997 and was a pleasant addition to the already talented squad.
In 1998, when Anderson had his perfect regular season, Wide...I mean Wade Richey kicked for San Francisco.
His field goal conversion percentage was a dismal 66.7, and he also missed two extra points. Then Richey had a breakout year in 1999 when the 49ers were a terrible 4-12.
He converted over 90 percent of his kicks, but his percentage dropped back under 70 percent the next two seasons and he was shown the door in 2001.
Then came lovable losers Jose Cortez (twice), Jeff Chandler, and Owen Pochman.
Thankfully Todd Peterson came by for a bit and wasn't too bad as the 49ers' kicker.
Then in 2005, longtime NFL veteran Joe Nedney was signed by San Francisco. The former San Jose State Spartan was the school's all-time leading scorer with 236 points and also punted as a senior, averaging 37.8 yards per punt.
Nedney hasn't looked back, becoming a steady force for the 49ers' special teams unit.
The 49ers hit another special teams jackpot when they drafted Andy Lee in the sixth round (188th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft. Lee has gone on to earn a Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro honors.
The San Francisco 49ers can sure forget about the inconsistent Barry Helton days.
Thanks to Nedney and Lee, fans can now release the repressed memories of Mike Cofer wearing the No. 6 and Doug Brien's No. 4 nightmare.
No. 6 Joe Nedney
Strengths: Steady veteran kicker who rarely misses kicks under 40 yards and his ability to utilize the onside kick makes him even more dangerous.
Weaknesses: Age. His range isn't getting any longer and many of his kickoffs are run back for good yardage.
Specialty: Field goals under 40 yards.
No. 4 Andy Lee
Strengths: The prototype NFL punter. Excellent leg strength and pinpoint accuracy.
Specialty: Pinning opponents deep in their own territory.
No. 86 Brian Jennings
Strengths: Veteran long snapper that can be depended on in clutch situations.
Weaknesses: Not exactly versatile as an all-around football player.
Specialty: Long snap.
No. 20 Allen Rossum
Strengths: One of the NFL's best return men for many years. Has the moves and breakaway speed to make a difference. Can return kicks and punts.
Weaknesses: Defensive abilities won't allow him to be anything more than a dime or quarter substitute.
Age is also starting to catch up to him.
Specialty: Kick returns.
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