Cortez is perfect, but does he stand a chance?

In a twist on the usual kicking theme, the misfiring rookie is the front-runner in a hot battle with the veteran incumbent who refuses to miss a kick. Jeff Chandler and Jose Cortez went leg-to-leg Thursday for the first time in 49ers training camp, and the guy who held the job last year doesn't appear too willing to give it up.

"I've got to make all my field goals, and they've got to look good," Cortez said after the morning practice session in which he and Chandler both kicked field goals in live team drills.

Mission accomplished.

Cortez - who struggled down the stretch last year in his first NFL season with the Niners - boomed all four of his attempts, splitting the uprights from 39, 44, 49 and 54 yards.

Chandler, the fourth-round draft pick the team expects to unseat Cortez, was wide right on his 39- and 49-yard attempts and wide left on his 54-yarder. He made his 44-yard attempt. It was not an auspicious camp debut for the heralded rookie, who the team drafted with the sole intention he would beat out Cortez.

"I sucked it up," Chandler said.

It was not the sort of thing the Niners had expected to see from Chandler in the first pressure situation for the kickers so far in camp. Just the same, Niners special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said he wasn't necessarily surprised.

"Really, today is the first time since he came to minicamp that (Chandler)'s had a day where you kind of shook your head and said, 'Where did that come from?'" DeHaven said. "But I wasn't totally surprised that Jeff didn't have a real good day. This is his first time in training camp doing team and every time he does something the first time, it's going to be a little bit more difficult than it is the next time."

The Niners sure hope so, because they forked out a $330,000 signing bonus to Chandler last week. Cortez, conversely, never has received a signing bonus from the team. This spring, Cortez signed a one-year, $300,000 tender to play with the Niners this season. He learned of Chandler's bonus from reporters after Thursday's practice.

"He's already made more than I'm supposed to make this year," Cortez said. "Good for him. I'm just trying to keep my job, man. Hopefully, I'll do good enough and we'll see how it goes."

Cortez will have to do more than just good enough. He'll have to be clearly better than Chandler, and that may take some doing. The Niners lost confidence in Cortez last year when he struggled down the stretch. After making his first 11 field-goal attempts of the season, Cortez finished the year making just seven of his final 14. Five of those kicks were blocked. Three months later, the Niners unexpectedly - and surprisingly - used a high draft pick on a college kicker.

While Cortez made the first strike in what should be one of the team's best fights for a roster berth, it probably doesn't mean much. Both Cortez and Chandler have been kicking well since spring minicamps, and DeHaven said that the competition between the two remains "almost dead even."

"Really, the kickers have been in lockstep all along in terms of how they've kicked," he said.

So, does that mean Cortez must continue to be perfect and Chandler must continue to fail for Cortez to be the winner? A tie in the competition most certainly will go to Chandler.

"I would hope that the best kicker is going to be the guy that's on the team," DeHaven responded. "I also understand the way the National Football League works and I think that Jose does, too, that when you expend a fourth-round draft choice on a kicker and he gets paid good bonus money, that the club thinks very highly of him.

"At the same time, there's some things we like about Jose. He won a couple of ball games for us in overtime last year. But I think it would be fair to say that the fact that (Chandler) is a high-round draft choice makes Jose's job tougher. And I told Jose this, that I would hope whoever the best kicker is is the guy who is going to be playing for us, and we hope that's the way it works out."

Which is DeHaven's way of saying Thursday's performance - and nonperformance - didn't really tip the scales much.

"It's just one day," he said. "We have a long ways to go yet."

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