SANTA CLARA — Phil Dawson has been to Candlestick Park for numerous kicking workouts to try to learn the stadium's tricky wind. He has hit it off with his teammates and begun to settle into life in the Bay Area — his first major move in more than a decade.
It's hard to imagine this guy being rattled by change, yet he acknowledges feeling anxiety through it all. At first.
Here he was a few months back, a 14-year NFL veteran nervous about joining a new team for the first time and starting fresh with the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. Even if he realizes full well — and did at the time — that this might be his best shot at winning a Super Bowl.
From the moment Dawson joined the 49ers, he put together a daunting to-do list for himself to get acclimated in a hurry. He will make his 49ers debut Sunday against Green Bay, a rematch of San Francisco's emphatic divisional playoff win in January.
“There's a long list of things I knew I needed to accomplish. One of which was just getting comfortable with my teammates, learning everybody, letting them get to know me,” Dawson said. There are so many things, getting used to snap and hold and developing that rapport and the timing, getting used to the new environment in terms of kicking, on kickoffs where am I aiming, what are my lines going to be? Getting a little more familiar with the stadiums. Literally, I'm starting over. It was a little intimidating at first but I look back now and I'm very pleased with how many of those boxes we've been able to check off. I feel ready to tackle what's next.”
And how about those swirling winds off the bay at The Stick? Dawson's not even pretending to have that down yet — or ever.
He seemed pretty comfortable at Candlestick during the preseason, hitting a 50-yard field goal in a victory against the Vikings. Overall, Dawson connected on 9 of 11 exhibition field goals with a pair of 55-yarders at Kansas City.
Yet Dawson will treat the opener with the Packers as if it's a road game. And he plans to continue to take that approach “until I get a few more under my belt and being able to start answering a few more of those unknowns.”
One thing that has eased the transition: Dawson's special teams coach, Brad Seely. They worked together in Cleveland, too.
So, when San Francisco began searching for David Akers' replacement, courting Dawson made perfect sense. The Niners signed Dawson to a one-year deal early in free agency.
“I know what he's done and I know him personally,” Seely said Thursday. “I know how even-keeled he is. He doesn't have a lot of ups and downs in his life or on the football field. You've got to deal with the wind conditions. We've gone to the stadium a lot and worked out. He kind of gets to know it as well as he can. He's done a great job in practice and we play out here every afternoon in the wind.”
Dawson quickly explained to one of his sons that Andy Lee had Dawson's old No. 4, and No. 8 wouldn't work because that belonged to Hall of Famer Steve Young.
He has settled with 9, and all is well.
A fan favorite in Cleveland, the 38-year-old Dawson went 29 for 31 on field goals last season in his 14th and final year with the Browns, making all 13 of his attempts from 40 yards or beyond, including 7 for 7 from 50-plus. He is the ninth-most accurate field-goal kicker (84.0 percent) in league history.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, some of that's just my personality,” Dawson said. “Whether I had one more year in Cleveland or a new year in San Francisco, any time going into a new season, I'm kind of like a pilot doing my pre-check check list.”
Something's going right when the star linebacker gives you a shout out.
“I've never seen a kicker work out as hard as he does,” Patrick Willis said. “Sometimes we joke with the kickers they get to go home so early. With Phil, when he leaves there's no question in your mind he's put in a great day's work.”
And, there are a few others Dawson must please Sunday. His wife, Shannon, is bringing their three children to town for the game — 12-year-old Dru, 10-year-old Beau and Sophiann, 7.
“I can't mess up or the kids will have a bad school day Monday,” Dawson said. “Dad can't embarrass the kids.”
Notes: In agreement with Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has concerns about the rules for protecting running quarterbacks — like Colin Kaepernick. “My feelings are the rule needs to be refined to make it a good rule. I'm not going to get into the wording and the terms and the specific legalese of it,” Roman said. “The interpretation of it can be abused, not in the best interest of the players or the league.”… RB LaMichael James said he will be out of the opener with a knee injury. … Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on rookie S Eric Reid's first career game: “I'm sure there's other teams we'd prefer for him to start against. There's no Sacramento States in this league. He's just got to be ready.”