49ers kicker Robbie Gould finding rhythm at right time for playoffs

49ers kicker Robbie Gould finding rhythm at right time for playoffs

SANTA CLARA -- After a tumultuous offseason and the worst stretch of his 15-year career, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould concluded the 2019 regular season in familiar fashion.

Gould was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December last week. It is the third consecutive season in which Gould won the award for the final month of the regular season.

“It’s been an interesting year, to say the least,” Gould said. “But sometimes these are the years that make you stronger and make you better as a player.”

Gould’s December success marked a stark contrast to the first three months of the season, as the 49ers were going through long-snappers like coffee filters in the first seven weeks of the season.

Finally, long-time long-snapper Kyle Nelson was able to rejoin the team in Week 8 after serving a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. But, then, Gould went on the shelf for three games due to a quadriceps injury.

Gould returned to action at the start of the month and made 10 of 11 field-goal attempts, including walk-off kicks to beat the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.

For a good portion of the season, Gould had to get acclimated to being the only member of the important long-snapper to holder to kicker function.

The 49ers cycled through Colin Holba, Jon Condo and Garrison Sanborn handling the snapping duties before Nelson’s return. Rookie punter Mitch Wishnowsky also was taking over from Bradley Pinion as the holder.

Nelson, Pinion and Gould teamed up during the two-season stretch in which Gould made 72 of 75 field-goal attempts in 2017 and ’18, and he entered this season as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.

Now, Gould and Co. appear to be getting closer to the success experienced from the team’s placekicking team from the past two seasons.

“It was a matter of trying to get some rhythm and timing and tempo,” Gould said. “Obviously, Kyle and Mitch being together and working the way they have, and the way Kyle’s been snapping and the way the guys have been blocking, has been really easy for me because I can go out there and swing easy.”

Gould did not sign his tender as the team’s franchise player in the offseason during what appeared to be acrimonious contract negotiations. Then, shortly before the deadline to sign a multi-year deal, the sides struck a pact on a four-year, $19 million contract.

But things did not go smoothly from there. Gould’s eight missed field goals this season are the most in a single season in his career. He was 0-for-4 on kicks of 50 yards or more. But he said his confidence never waned.

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“No, my confidence has never been an issue,” Gould said. “It’s just a matter of things happen that are out of your control. You can only control what you can control. Obviously, there’s a lot that happened this season.

“It’s taken a little while longer to get in rhythm. At least right now, it’s happening at the right time and we got to continue to work together and get better. Every point matters. Every point counts.”

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

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One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas

Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?


Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?

When Jerry Rice retired before the 2005 season, he was the unquestioned greatest receiver in NFL history. Many even viewed him as the greatest player of all time. 

Rice certainly still holds that title for receivers and is in the debate among all players. The question now is, will anyone break Rice's three major receiving records?

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio and  NBC Sports' Peter King recently asked that exact question, so it's time for us to do the same.

The former 49ers star -- yes, he also played for the Raiders -- finished his career with the most receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197) in NFL history. If you include his rushing touchdowns, Rice actually had 207 total TDs. 

Let's start with career receptions, which has a real chance of being broken. It all depends on how long Larry Fitzgerald continues to play. 

Fitzgerald is No. 2 on the all-time list with 1,378, putting him 171 receptions behind Rice. The 36-year-old signed a one-year contract in January to come back for his 17th season with the Arizona Cardinals. He had 75 receptions last season in quarterback Kyler Murray's rookie year last season. 

Fitzgerald actually might be in line for a bigger season this year -- if the NFL even has a season. Murray will be in his second season under coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins could free up Fitzgerald.

If Fitzgerald continues to sign one-year deals with Arizona, there's a real chance he could surpass Rice's record. But that's a big if. Rice should hold onto the record for years to come if Fitzgerald only has another year or two in his tank.

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To no surprise, Fitzgerald is second in career receiving yards but is 5,812 yards behind Rice. Yeah, that's not going to happen. 

Julio Jones, 31, already has 12,125 receiving yards and has averaged 1,347 through his first nine years. Hopkins, 27, has 8,602 yards through seven seasons and has averaged 1,229 receiving yards per year.

For comparison, Rice averaged 1,090 receiving yards but that was over 20 years. If anyone has a chance, however small it might be, it's Julio. Good luck on maintaining that pace for another 10 years.

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And finally, there are the touchdowns. That record isn't going anywhere. Jones has 57 career receiving TDs and Hopkins has 54. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans have 48. From 1986 to '96, Rice averaged 13.7 receiving touchdowns. He scored nine at 39 years old with the Raiders. 

Rice simply was a machine. A 17-game schedule could help players like Fitzgerald, Jones and Hopkins get within range of Rice, but don't expect the greatest receiver of all time see his records fall.