CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.
However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.
Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.
But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.
“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.
“They make it as bad as possible.”
Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.
“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”
The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.
“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.
“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”
Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”