SANTA CLARA There's a "leader in the clubhouse" when it comes to the 49ers' kicking competition, Jim Harbaugh said Monday.
As usual, Harbaugh wouldn't reveal whether the leader was incumbent David Akers or challenger Billy Cundiff, but the coach said one of the veterans has looked better in practice so far.
Of course, the competition is just beginning.
The 49ers practiced only twice last week before the players were given the weekend off. On Monday, the team's specialists drove 45 miles north on Highway 101 to Candlestick Park to kick there.
Akers, 38, has considerably more experience at Candlestick, a notoriously windy venue with tricky kicking conditions given the odd configuration of the stands. He has attempted 60 field goals there since 2002, making 48 (80 percent). Cundiff, 32, never had set foot in the stadium until Monday.
Does that give Akers a home-field advantage, especially considering Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against the Packers is at Candlestick?
"We've been weighing as many factors as we can," Harbaugh said. "It's predominantly based on how they're kicking now, head to head."
Punter Andy Lee, who holds on field goals and extra points, said there have been no wrinkles in practice to this point and that Harbaugh and the coaches haven't manufactured high-pressure situations to help decide the competition.
"Everything that we've done is normal," Lee said. "It's just that two guys are kind of splitting the reps. So I don't think there's anything different than what we've done in the past."
Harbaugh also said there's a "good chance" that both kickers will remain on the 49ers' 53-man roster on Saturday and that it's "conceivable" both will be active for the game.
Aside from the backup quarterback, the 49ers typically use every active player on game days. Allowing both Akers and Cundiff to suit up would mean the team has one fewer player on coverage units or as a backup at a key position.
Cowboy cometh Harbaugh said Justin Smith's presence on the practice field had an effect on the entire squad. The defensive tackle had missed two weeks of practice after partially tearing his left triceps tendon in New England on Dec. 16.
"I can tell you this that there's a character of our team that's enhanced, is driven by Justin," Harbaugh said.
Smith likely will play Saturday with a brace similar to the one worn by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on Sunday.
Lewis suffered a complete tear of his right triceps tendon in October, had surgery and returned against the Colts. He led all tacklers with 13 stops in the Ravens' win.
Famous first The first quarterback Lewis ever sacked? It was Harbaugh in 1996, when Harbaugh was with the Colts and Lewis was a rookie with the Ravens.
Harbaugh said his father, a former coach, notified him of that historical fact last week but that he doesn't remember the play.
"It was 1996," Harbaugh said. "I've forgotten half my life."