Phil Dawson wants to leave nothing to chance.
When he lines up in November or December for a crucial, late-game field goal attempt, he wants to know everything he can possibly know about the conditions at Candlestick Park. Which is why he’s been on the 49ers’ home field several times this offseason to kick field goals from every part of the field.
Dawson, the 14-year veteran signed to a one-year deal this offseason to replace David Akers – who had a shaky 2012 season after a terrific year in 2011 – likes to do his homework.
“The more I can knock that out now, the better it’s going to be when game time comes,” said Dawson of his work at the ‘Stick. He wants to know what the turf feels like, what the wind conditions will be and what the kicking background will look like. After kicking in Cleveland for 14 seasons, San Francisco is his new office.
“Candlestick’s a uniquely shaped stadium,” Dawson told Taylor Price of 49ers.com. “There’s not a whole lot behind the goal post to aim at, so I was trying to figure out if there’s a scoreboard or a certain flag pole I could aim at back there. Things like that are helpful, and then just being there, getting used to the sounds, the smells, the overall feel of it all. The more you can be in there, the more prepared I feel.”
Last season, Dawson was almost automatic, making 29 of 31 attempts. His 84 percent success rate on field goals (305 of 365) ranks ninth all-time in the NFL. Since 2011, he’s also made 14 of 15 field-goal attempts from 50 yards or beyond.
While other 49ers moves in free agency and the draft have drawn bigger headlines this offseason, the acquisition of Dawson could be one of the most important made by the team. In the NFC West, where competition figures to be keen against the Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals, it’s possible the division title or a playoff spot could come down to just one or two field goal tries. In Cleveland, he made 15 game-winning field goals.
Dawson wants to make certain he leaves nothing to chance when he goes out to try to make those kicks, which is why he’s kicked at Candlestick several times since signing with the team in March.
Also, during the organized team activities (OTAs) that are now in their third week, Dawson is kicking at goal posts that are 50 percent narrower than normal NFL uprights. It’s something he’s used to from working with 49ers special teams coach Brad Seely, who used to be with Dawson in Cleveland.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Dawson told Price. “It helps you zero in on a specific target rather than try to kick it somewhere between the posts. It’s definitely a challenge, but definitely fun.”