After a terrific first season with the 49ers in 2013, Phil Dawson had a slight dropoff in 2014.
Yet Dawson – who turned 40 this offseason – goes into training camp in late July confident he’s as good as ever. Though the 49ers may use strong-legged rookie punter Bradley Pinion on kickoffs this coming season to ensure more kicks into the end zone, Dawson has no real challenger to his job as place-kicker.
In fact, he’s told reporters that he also wants to keep his job on kickoffs, as well, noting that his 43.8 percent touchback rate was the best of his career.
Pinion, however, put 92 of 180 kickoffs at Clemson into the end zone, a 51 percent rate, and the 49ers will get a look at what he can do during the exhibition season.
As a field goal kicker, however, Dawson remained strong through his late 30s and says he can be just as effective in 2015 when he’ll be in the final year of his contract with the Niners – even with a new holder.
After the trade of longtime punter and holder Andy Lee, Pinion is expected to take over the holding duties for Dawson.
“When I signed this deal two years ago, I expected to perform at an elite level for the term and then some,” Dawson recently told the media at 49ers workouts. “I’m more encouraged now that I can do that than I was two years ago when I signed it. I feel better, feel stronger. I expect big things.”
After making 88.9 percent of his field goal attempts in 2013, Dawson made just 80.6 percent in 2014. It was his lowest success rate since 2006 and below his career rate of 84.2 percent.
Part of that could be due to a couple of factors, however – neither one being his age.
For one, the 49ers offense wasn’t as good as it was the previous year, and Dawson had five fewer opportunities than he had in 2013. For another, nine of his attempts came from 50 yards or more, the most of his career. Still, he made six.
He made all six of his tries up to 29 yards, missed only one kick (8 of 9) from 30-39 yards and two (5 of 7) from 40-49 yards. Yet Dawson had been almost automatic the two previous seasons, so his lower success rate in 2014 was noticeable. In 2014 he had six misses in 31 attempts – or as many as he had in 2013 and 2012 combined.
Dawson says he’s eager to start working with Pinion during training camp and become as comfortable with him as his holder as he was with Lee.
“It’s going to require a lot of hard work and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Dawson.