Former Pitt punter Andy Lee and cornerback Shawntae Spencer made an inauspicious return to Heinz…
Niner of the Week
Season to date: Lee is off to the best start ever by a punter in the team's 62-year history. He currently stands alone as the NFL leader with a 49.7-yard average per punt, and also leads the NFC with a 42.6 net per punt. Lee also leads the NFL in total punts (29), total yards punting (1,441) and net yards punting (1,234). He's also tied for fourth in the league with eight kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. Opponents are averaging just 3.6 yards on the 13 punts by Lee that have been returned. Lee has two punts of more than 70 yards this season, and he has been stellar in each of San Francisco's first four games, averaging 41.7 yards with a 38.2 net on six punts in the opener against Arizona, 45.3 with a 41.8 net on eight kicks in Week 2 at St. Louis and 57.2 with a 46.0 net on five kicks in Week 3 at Pittsburgh.
Need to note: Lee's 44.8 average last season was the best by a San Francisco punter since Tommy Davis led the team with a 45.8 average in 1965. That effort left Lee seventh in the NFL and fourth among the NFC's leading punters at the end of the season. He also was seventh in the league with a 36.8 net. Lee led the 49ers in punting with a 41.6 average as a rookie in 2004 and again with a 41.6 average in 2005 – the highest averages by a San Francisco punter since 1998. Lee set team records with a career-high 107 punts for 4,447 yards in 2005. He boomed a career-best 81-yard punt against Tampa Bay during his rookie season, the fourth-longest punt in team history and the NFL's longest punt of the 2004 season.
Lee says: "I'm hitting the ball really well right now, and it feels really good to be a help to the defense and to the field position of where the team starts at. My technique is more sound now, and I'm hitting the ball better than I used to at a more consistent rate. If you hit the ball well, it will go. That's one thing you work on, is to be able to hit the ball consistently off your foot in a solid manner. I've been hitting the ball well and my coverage team has been doing a really good job of getting down there and making tackles. I take my job seriously and I always want to be the best that I can be. You can look at it as I'm doing the best I can do to help this team out. I just focus on what I have to do to help this team win."
Coach Mike Nolan says: "Andy has played well, but on the victories (in Week 1 and 2), he played extremely well. Field position is the punter's job, that's what he does, he changes field position. And thus far, Andy has done a very good job. He's not only got distance on his punts but he's also got some hang time, which in my opinion and philosophy, is one that we unitize here in the kicking game. The punter gets the ball up in the air so your coverage units can do something. Out-kicking your coverage is not something I'm fond of. He's done a nice job with his punting."
Looking forward: After the best back-to-back games of his career, Lee figures to continue his emergence as one of the league's top punters the remainder of the season. With the 49ers struggling on offense and relying on defense and special teams to keep them in games, Lee figures to keep busy and remain a key factor in the team's success and ability to win the battle for field position. He also will challenge to become the first 49er to lead the NFL in punting since Davis did it with a 45.6 average in 1962. Lee is on a pace for 116 punts this season, which would break the NFL record of 114 set by John Parsons with the Chicago Bears in 1982 and matched by former 49er punter Chad Stanley with the Houston Texans in 2002.
ALSO CONSIDERED: DE Marques Douglas (nine tackles, one sack, one quarterback pressure, three stops for a loss); LB Patrick Willis (game-high 12 tackles, one stop for a loss, strong again in run support); CB Nate Clements (three tackles, team-high three passes defensed, one interception that set up San Francisco's only score of game); RB Frank Gore (game-high 79 yards rushing, led team with three receptions for 42 yards, accounted for 66 percent of San Francisco's 184 total offensive yards)
2007 NOTW LIST: Week 1: WR Arnaz Battle. Week 2: RB Frank Gore. Week 3: DE Marques Douglas. Week 4: P Andy Lee.
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