Current 49ers on the Roster: Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Chad Hall, A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette, Mario Manningham, Marlon Moore, Quinton Patton, Kyle Williams
Michael Crabtree's injury in the first week of OTAs puts even more pressure on San Francisco's receiving corps. Yet it also creates tremendous opportunity for players hoping to have an even greater impact for the team in 2013.
One of the 49ers' goals during the past two seasons was to strengthen the wide receiver position. In 2012, San Francisco tried to address this by signing former Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins with their first-round draft pick. They also acquired former Giants receiver Mario Manningham and brought in veteran Randy Moss. Yet by the end of the season, Crabtree was the lone threat at the position, which had direct correlation to San Francisco's loss in Super Bowl XLVII. Strengthening the position became a 49ers' priority once again.
In the offseason, the 49ers were able to execute a trade for veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who had hurt them as a member of the Baltimore Ravens when they faced off against San Francisco in the Super Bowl. In addition, San Francisco selected former Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth round of the draft. Furthermore, the 49ers can count on the likely returns of Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams, both of whom suffered season-ending ACL injuries last year. Jenkins, who had nearly no impact last season, may also be a factor.
Two weeks into OTAs, it is becoming apparent that Boldin will step up as the primary receiver for San Francisco.
As reported by 49ers.com columnist Taylor Price, Boldin caught 10 passes during seven-on-seven and team periods. Even more impressive, the 6'1," 220-pound wide receiver caught six passes during the opening seven-on-seven period and looked like he would be able to fill in nicely for the injured Crabtree. Boldin was able to beat both Patrick Willis and Carlos Rogers in coverage and looked everything like the type of top receiver whom head coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers' coaching staff need.
Even Boldin is enjoying the experience and the opportunity to play on a team laden with so much talent. After his commendable efforts in OTAs, Boldin said:
It was just of those days where it happened to be me. It’s like being a rookie all over. It’s cool. The passing game goes through us. It’s definitely on us to get better as a receiving corps. A guy like Crabtree you don’t replace. When you lose a guy like that, the next guy has to step up. There is no wait and see. (via 49ers.com)
Yet who fills in behind Boldin?
San Francisco wants to avoid a situation similar to the one that plagued them last year. Not only will health be a factor, but Kaepernick also needs to be able to spread the ball around the field and not just focus in on a top receiver, like he did with Crabtree last season.
With Manningham and Williams still recovering and rehabilitating from last year's injuries, hoping for returns at the start of the season, pressure will be put on the other 49er receivers. San Francisco fans are all-too familiar with the struggles of Jenkins last season, but there are legitimate hopes that he can be a force in 2013.
Jenkins is looking more comfortable thus far into OTAs and may at least provide added depth at the position, if not a legitimate threat at the outset. As stated by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Jenkins has bulked up some and should be a top candidate for major playing time after his zero-catch rookie season.
Depending on what happens with Manningham and Williams, Jenkins may have a shot as the second wide receiver on the depth chart.
San Francisco is also taking a close look at Patton, who is competing for a top receiver position. While there is little doubt surrounding his physical talents, there are some questions regarding how soon he can learn the 49ers offense.
Patton's former collegiate coach Sonny Dykes noted that learning the playbook would be Patton's biggest challenge, but that the young receiver has the determination and talent to do it. During a visit to San Francisco's OTAs, Dykes commented:
The biggest challenge for him is to adapt and learn the playbook quickly. He can help on special teams if needed but he is really good with yards after catch. Patton works hard and is a good guy. He could be a star receiver because he is eager, passionate and competitive. (via examiner.com)
Even Patton recognized that learning the playbook has been tough. In an interview with Bay Area reporters last week, Patton said, "I’ve been trying. Every time I try to learn a couple of plays, they put some more plays on me. I’m trying. That’s probably going to be the hardest thing" (via pressdemocrat.com).
If Patton can learn the playbook well enough and continue his maturation process, it is also feasible that the rookie receiver will have plenty of opportunities entering the season.
Further down on San Francisco's depth chart are receivers Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall. While both may be a long shot to have a significant impact during 2013 or even to make the opening day roster, it is possible that both receivers will surprise coaches as OTAs continue. Lockette spent most of the offseason working out with Kaepernick, and it is possible that the raw receiver may be able to develop some chemistry with his quarterback.
Kawakami suggests that there are a lot of unknowns about Lockette, however. He writes: "There's Ricardo Lockette, Kaepernick's workout buddy, who sure looks like a [wide receiver] but nobody has any idea until he wins or loses playing time in camp or in games" (mercurynews.com).
In addition, Hall has also shown some impressive moments thus far and may be worth consideration. While both may be regarded only as depth players at the position, OTAs are at least giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills and compete.
If the 49ers learned anything from last season, they know that they cannot have too much talented depth at the wide receiver position. They also know that the offense can ill-afford to lock onto only one receiver as the season moves forward. San Francisco needs top receivers, and it needs to distribute the ball well. Hopefully OTAs are establishing the prospects for doing just that.
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