Five hours before Sunday’s game in Green Bay, a lone, bundled figure in a black hat walked onto the empty field to check for soft spots, find the bare patches, gauge which way the wind was blowing and orient himself with the scoreboards.
It was 49ers kicker Phil Dawson performing the painstaking game-day ritual he goes through whether the 49ers are playing in 5 degrees or in a climate-controlled dome.
“I don’t have an opponent across the line of scrimmage,” he said Friday. “The conditions of the day are my opponent, so anything I can do to study and prepare, I’ll take advantage of that.”
Sunday’s game will be played under sunny skies with temperatures in the high 50s. But it brings its own degree of angst for the 15-year veteran, who has kicked game-winning field goals as time expired in the past two weeks.
Dawson, who spent most of his career in the AFC, has seldom kicked at Carolina’s Bank of America Stadium – just one regular-season game and one in the preseason.
To get information about the field, Dawson went so far as to call his counterpart in Sunday’s game, Panthers kicker Graham Gano.
“To his credit, he didn’t give me a lot of information, so the gamesmanship has begun,” Dawson said.
What did Gano say when Dawson called?
Said Dawson: “Pretty much said, ‘I’ll see you Sunday.’ So I’ll see him before the game, and I’ll have to do the homework myself.”
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Rogers would have to practice at least some this week to face the Panthers. Rogers has begun sprinting, but he hasn’t practiced since suffering the injury Dec. 29at Arizona. Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock likely will start at cornerback, with Perrish Cox entering in nickel situations.
The 49ers were in the nickel formation throughout Sunday’s game against the Packers. They mostly will use their base package against the Panthers, one of only three teams – the 49ers and Seahawks are the others – that ran the ball more than they passed it this season. The 49ers were in their base package on 65 percent of the snaps in Carolina’s 10-9 victory on Nov. 10.
If the 49ers win Sunday, Rogers, who had not missed a game since joining the 49ers in 2011, could be back for next week’s NFC Championship Game, which would be either in Seattle or at Candlestick Park.