SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Billy Cundiff, sporting a crisp new white No. 6 jersey, had an impressive first day of practice with the San Francisco 49ers while kicking alongside struggling veteran David Akers as coach Jim Harbaugh closely watched.
Cundiff signed a one-year contract Tuesday with the NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1) to compete with Akers as Harbaugh and his staff determine who will handle the kicking duties for San Francisco in the NFC divisional playoffs Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park.
The 32-year-old Cundiff, who missed a potential tying 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that sent New England to the Super Bowl last season instead of the Baltimore Ravens, connected from as far out as 55 yards Thursday afternoon while using a portable holder. He was 10-of-12 overall, including 7-for-8 with Andy Lee holding.
Akers went 16 for 21 in an unofficial media count during the open portion of practice.
While Akers and Cundiff went about their jobs with no time for small talk, general manager Trent Baalke briefly chatted with Cundiff as the newcomer walked down the field to work on kickoffs. At one moment, Harbaugh walked nearly a full field to shag footballs under the uprights.
Akers twice missed wide right from 43 yards and again on a 48-yard try, while also coming up short from 52 and 53 yards.
For a franchise determined to take the next step and reach this year’s Super Bowl after coming so close last season, Harbaugh is serious about finding a kicker he can count on — even if his choice of Cundiff is puzzling to some who remember his devastating miss for Harbaugh’s big brother, John, and the Ravens a year ago.
Yet Cundiff tried out once in late November and again this week, and got his chance.
Akers, who made 44 of 52 attempts in his sensational 2011 season, is just 29-for-42 this year. The six-time Pro Bowler and 15-year veteran is only 7-for-13 from 40-49 yards. He did connect from 63 yards in a season-opening win at Green Bay when the ball bounced off the crossbar and through the uprights.
The 38-year-old Akers signed a three-year contract as arguably the 49ers’ biggest offseason acquisition ahead of the 2011 season aside from the hiring of Harbaugh. And he delivered at nearly every opportunity — until recently.
He also had a 21-yard attempt blocked by Red Bryant in a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23, and Richard Sherman returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Yet Akers has made at least one field goal in 33 consecutive games, the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
Cundiff was released by the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9 after missing five of his 12 field goal attempts.
The journeyman joins his sixth team in 10 NFL seasons. He has also played for Dallas, New Orleans and Cleveland.