By Jerrell Richardson
While David Akers had a season to forget last year, which ultimately lead to his being released by the 49ers this past March, he never really was a clutch kicker. The 49ers have Super Bowl aspirations and must have a kicker that they can rely on in the post season. While they almost pulled off winning it all in spite of Akers, it was a no brainer to let the veteran kicker go. Even in 2011, his first season in a 49er uniform when everyone was happy with his play, he was not reliable from anything past 40 yards. In his two seasons with San Francisco he made only 22 of 39 kicks past that distance, which is simply unacceptable.
Numbers Don’t Lie
To replace him, the 49ers turned to another veteran in Phil Dawson, who is statistically the best kicker in the game today. Last year he converted all of his kicks over 40 yards, and finished the season with an impressive 93.5 percentage, which is a major upgrade from the 69 percent Akers posted. Dawson did miss his first attempt as a 49er (from 48 yards), but fans, teammates and coaches will no longer be holding their breath every time the 49ers are forced to kick.
Dawson is 38 years old though, and even with him having the best year of his career last season, the end has to be in sight. He will more than fill the need for the team for at least two seasons, but before long the team will need to do what they did to replace free safety Dashon Goldson.
Rookie With a Bright Future
When Dashon Goldson decided to take his talents to Tampa Bay, the 49er secondary took a major hit. The hard-hitting free safety was the enforcer on the back end of the defense and was in the mind of every receiver who ventured across the middle of the field. He also gave the team about 55 tackles a year and the occasional interception. Unlike Akers, the team did not want to see him go, but the NFL is a business and the team was forced to move on. San Francisco turned to rookie Eric Reid, who is no Goldson, but has a bright future, and should be able to give San Francisco a premier safety.
Eric Reid had good and bad things to take from his first NFL start. The good, by far out shadowed the bad, and the decision to move up in the draft to grab him appears justified already. The glaring mistake he made was tackling. He may have only missed two, but he is the free safety and going to be the last line of defense more times than not, so any missed tackle is magnified. Reid did add an interception and delivered several big (legal) hits that show that he will be able to fill the big cleats of Goldson.
The best news about Reid, is that he is a long-term answer at a crucial position. He is eight years younger than Goldson, comes a lot cheaper, and with the NFL trying to cut down on big hits, Reid will not be flagged nearly as much as Goldson who was already fined and flagged this season for his hit on a defenseless receiver.
All’s Well That Ends Well
The 49ers had no idea how Dawson or Reid would fit into their system, but both players have already made an impact in a win, and can only get better as they get settled into their new surroundings. It will be interesting to watch the development of Reid who is in the ideal situation, and in a few years could be the best free safety in football. Dawson is also enjoying the change of scenery after spending his entire career in Cleveland, as nothing puts the spring in an athlete’s step like going from a bad team to a Super Bowl contender. Both players will have success as they find themselves in an organization that has the knack of getting the most out of their players, making the decision a perfect fit for both sides.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.