49ers add some proven pop with veteran punter

As they've done at several spots throughout the roster during the 2006 offseason, the 49ers have added a veteran performer to provide training-camp competition to a position this summer as part of their continuing attempt to upgrade every area of the team.

This time it's Tom Rouen, a 14th-year veteran who has established himself as one of the top punters of this NFL era. Rouen, signed by the team on Thursday, has an impressive 43.4 career average to show for his 13 NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, including a league-high 46.5 average with the Broncos in 1999 and a career-high 46.9 average the year before.

Rouen recently was released by the NFC West divisional rival Seattle Seahawks, who opted to go young at the position. The 49ers, after checking out USC product Tom Malone this spring – an undrafted rookie free agent who led the nation in punting in 2003 – opted to bring in Rouen to challenge incumbent Andy Lee this summer.

In his previous 13 NFL seasons, Rouen established himself as one of the best directional and hang-time punters in the league. He has 243 career kicks inside the 20-yard line - including 20 in 62 punts last year - and only 89 touchbacks. In 810 kicks, Rouen has never suffered a blocked punt.

Rouen averaged 41.6 yards with a net of 35.0 on his punts last season. But he ended his career in Seattle strong, averaging 45.4 yards on 15 kicks in the playoffs, including a 50.2-yard average in Seattle's 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

Malone, who was waived by the 49ers on Thursday, was not impressive this spring and had no real shot at unseating Lee this summer. It might be a different scenario with Rouen, who has the proven veteran experience the 49ers like and also has some pop left in his leg.

Lee averaged 41.6 yards on his punts last season – the same figure as his rookie season in 2004 – but wore down at the end of the season from over-use. Lee had a team-record 107 punts last year, one of the highest totals in NFL history. His 96 punts in 2004 tied the previous team record.

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