Is Joe Nedney hurt or isn’t he?
The veteran NFL kicker hadn’t booted a ball in a live drill all summer, but that didn’t necessarily strike me as odd. In my years covering the Raiders, Sebastian Janikowski did a lot more standing around than kicking in training camp, and he and punter Shane Lechler were always first ones off the field.
After Nedney sat out the game at Indianapolis on Sunday, though, coach Mike Singletary intimated he was nursing some sort of injury. Yesterday, Singletary said, “I think Joe is fine. I think he’s been a little sore, but I think he’s fine.”
Sure enough, Nedney did his first real kicking of camp today as the 49ers brought him on for field-goal practice. He started out at extra-point range and moved back in 5-yard increments, until he was hitting from 45 yards. Nedney missed just one kick.
The Chronicle’s David White and I teamed up on the most accurate kicker in 49ers history (an 86.8-percent success rate) after practice today to discuss his health and his kicking regimen. I don’t normally use interviews in Q&A form, but I thought Nedney was so interesting that I wanted to let him do the talking. Note: The insightful questions are mine. The offensive or redundant ones are David’s.
Why hadn’t you been kicking?
“I’ve got a groin that has plagued me for my entire kicking career. I’ve gotten to this point now where I’ve got to be smart with it. I can’t go out there and hit a whole bunch of balls and risk injuring it and doing something with it, where now this team’s got to bring in a kicker for a week or two here, and a week or two there. Just taking a different approach to it and being proactive versus reactive. … So, I started out, just didn’t feel quite right, so we were proactive with it and now it feels great.”
First swing, you checking on how you feel?
“Yeah, on the field over here I’m swinging half speed a good amount of reps. Then I’m bumping it up to three-quarters speed and I’m feeling how it feels, and then I’m going full speed. Once I go to full speed and I’m pain free, then, you know, floodgates are open.”
How old were you when you started having this trouble?
“Probably about 17. There’s a calcified mass inside the muscle and it was something that occurred when I was 17. I tore it the first year learning how to kick the football and, like a dumb kid, just kicked right through it, right through it, right through it, and it never healed. So my body ended up calcifying the wound, and so now I’ve got a bone basically right in the middle of the muscle and I can’t take it out. I’ve got to deal with it. If you take a bone fragment out of a muscle, you’re tearing out a good portion of the muscle and that’s kind of important to my kicking swing, so it’s something I’ve learned to deal with. … It’s just when you’re 37 versus 23, you’ve got to take care of it in a different way.”
Ever had to shut it down before?
“Last year in training camp, I believe I took a game off. I think Alex Romero ended up kicking an entire game last preseason. The good thing is the coaching staff and the training staff have been very cooperative, saying, ‘You know what? You know your body, you know how to get ready.’ They’re making it as much of a non-issue as possible.”
Worse things than sitting out camp?
“No argument there.”
With a long-time snapper and holder, how much you even have to work in August?
“Well, I’ve always been somebody who’s worked at my craft throughout the offseason. I’m not comfortable taking six months off, so I’ve always kicked a lot during the offseason. And this is my sixth year with Andy (Lee) and Brian (Jennings) right now, and every year when we get back out there – early on I needed a couple of days to get the rhythm down. But now, really, it’s like riding a bike. There’s so much confidence in Brian and Andy that I can just go out there, turn my brain off and kick the ball. And that’s a luxury that not a lot of kickers I think have. There’s so much thinking that kickers do in their position, and I’m able to actually eliminate that, and then just worry about the field conditions and the weather conditions vs. the timing, the rhythm, all those things. It’s quite a luxury.”
If it came to it, could you kick in a game without having practiced at all?
“I’ll give you an example. We had two special-teams periods (today). And they were somewhat close together – there was about 10 or 15 minutes between the periods that I had to warm myself up between punt and field goal. So normally what we do is, we go out there, and Brian and Andy and I warm up, and we get a half-dozen to 10 warm-up reps before we kick. Time ran short on extensive warm-up, and I never got a chance to get any kind of rhythm work over here on the field before we went out. And we came out for live play, really didn’t miss a beat. So to answer your question, yes. I think it would never happen that way. We would never let it happen. But I think hypothetically, yeah, I could go in there. I have that much confidence in those two.”
How much do you kick in the offseason, and what else do you do for your leg?
“I start kicking usually in March, April. And I go a couple days a week for a few weeks, and then I go three days a week for a few weeks, and just kind of progress into it. But my training regimen, I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so I use the mountains. I mountain bike, I run in the hills, I trail-run. There’s a hill that I use in my neighborhood that I do wind sprints up. And work on flexibility training and basically just kind of keeping what I have in good shape, vs. trying to build muscle tissue. My frame is more conducive to the pendulum swing, so I’ve got to keep those muscles flexible vs. in the weight room pounding. So I’ve kind of eliminated weight training from it. It’s more flexibility and speed training.”
Ever get teammates on the trails with you?
“Nah, nobody lives in Santa Cruz County, so I’m kind of on my own.”