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49ers’ Andy Lee plans to unveil knuckleball punt

Andy Lee

San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee walks off the field before NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)


San Francisco punter Andy Lee says he may unveil a tactic that he hasn’t previously employed in the 49ers’ preseason finale on Thursday: A punt that moves like a knuckleball.

Lee told that he has been practicing the punt, which will be harder for returners to catch and may result in some turnovers for the 49ers, and is ready to see how it works under live game conditions.

“It’s definitely something I want to do in a game to see how it actually happens in a live situation,” Lee said. “In practice, you can do things and you can mimic as much as you can, but you never really know how a new thing you’re going to do is going to react in a game situation. So I’d love to hopefully be able to pull it out and try it and see if it’s something I can work in my regular routine.”

Of course, if Lee really thinks he has discovered a secret weapon, it’s probably not too smart to talk about it with the media, or use it in the preseason. I don’t recall Sean Payton bragging about what a great surprise onside kick he had planned before Super Bowl XLIV.

But 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams says Lee has kicked knuckleball punts to him in practice, and they catch returners by surprise.

“It’s just like a knuckleball in baseball,” Williams said. “It’s floating up there, and it will change direction probably three or four times within the last 5 yards, 10 yards, and then it’s right there. It’s tough to deal with.”

Lee isn’t the first punter to try a knuckleball -- Craig Hentrich is credited with creating it -- but he thinks the windy conditions in San Francisco may allow him to use it more effectively than it’s ever been before. Opposing punt returners have been warned.