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49ers mulling options with Akers, kicking game

Published: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 4:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 4:52 p.m.

SANTA CLARA

Jim Harbaugh was in his Jimbo mood on Monday. When he's happy and everything is right with the world and he flashes the million-dollar grin, that's the Jimbo mood.

Of course, Harbaugh has several other moods and some of those are terse or gloomy or withdrawn. Hardly Jimbo Jim.

But on Monday, Jimbo visited with the media. The conversation naturally got around to David Akers, the Niners' biggest problem. Jimbo being Jimbo, he didn't seem fazed that Akers is the worst kicker in the league. He said kickers go through slumps. That insight right there showed empathy, and one of Jimbo's most attractive qualities is empathy. We assume Jimbo was not the Jim Harbaugh who handled Alex Smith or Brandon Jacobs, whom the 49ers waived Monday after a short, unhappy tenure on the team and an unspecified transgression that resulted in loss of pay for three games.

Jimbo said he has three options in the place-kicking department.

Option No. 1: He could stick with Akers.

Sure, he could but that would show lack of preparation and a certain slackness we do not associate with Harbaugh in any incarnation.

Option No. 2: He could get another kicker. Jimbo admitted he will bring in kickers for tryouts this week and see if any is better than Akers.

This is a very good idea. I wonder, though, what kind of kicker the 49ers can procure with the playoffs around the corner. I mean, if this unnamed kicker is so good, wouldn't he already be employed?

One further note on Option No. 2: Akers is not allowed to compete with the other kickers. So, he'll wait at home biting his nails while the other guys try to kick him out of a job.

And then there is Option No.3, the most creative option. Jimbo, more expansive than he's been in a long time, said he could sign another kicker to go along with Akers. That means he'd have two kickers on the roster. They could kick against each other in practice, kick their brains out, as it were, as they try to establish kicker dominance. At some point in this Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest drama, Jimbo would choose his guy.

I'll tell you what's crazy about all this. No one ever thinks about the kicker. The kickers are the guys who sit on the edge of the locker room and talk to almost no one except each other. They don't even look like football players. They have the bodies of cost accountants or sportswriters, and they almost never hit anyone or get hit. They are the pacifists of football.

No one thinks about them until they lose the kicker touch. Then doubt rushes into the game. You saw Akers lose the kicker touch Sunday against that pathetic outfit from the desert — well, he already had lost it. Akers missed two easy-as-pie field goals. The ball trembled off his foot and floated toward the uprights like a balloon blown here and there by the wind. The two misses went wide and Akers trudged to the sideline head down. He had failed.

Jimbo said he believes nothing is physically wrong with Akers. That may or may not be true because Jimbo doesn't exactly spill his guts about injuries. It certainly seems Akers lost his confidence.

It is undesirable for a kicker to lose his confidence at this time in the season. In the playoffs, games often come down to that hard-to-make field goal late in the fourth quarter with everyone depending on this football player who isn't really a football player, this player who may have left his self-belief in the locker room and is whispering to himself, “I sure hope I make this kick.”

The Niners do not exactly have a dynamic offense. It has been held to 13 or fewer points five times this season, which means their games can be close.

Quick note: Jimbo said his offensive coordinator Greg Roman deserves to be considered for head-coaching jobs based on “his body of work.”

Body of work? Is the body in the morgue?

Roman does not design the passing game or the red-zone game. His is a highly-limited body of work. Jimbo Harbaugh told me Roman has no gaps in his role as coordinator. No gaps? I believe there may be chasms the size of the Grand Canyon. I'm not even sure Roman calls passing plays in games or calls plays in the red zone. Try to get an answer from Jimbo on those issues. And if Roman really is in charge of the whole shebang, he gets the blame for the Niners' red-zone lack of efficiency and what passes for a third-down offense.

And that's where the kicker comes in. If the offense can't run away from the Redskins, Seahawks or Packers — the three possible opponents on Jan. 12 — the game might come down to the kicker. You don't want Akers or an Akers substitute jogging onto the field clutching a security blanket, sucking on a binky or chanting in Latin.

The last thing Jimbo needs right now is a kickless kicker. Please pass the Pepcid and say a prayer for the big guy.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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