Breaking Down San Francisco 49ers' Wide Receiver Situation
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco's situation at wide receiver is nothing new. Heading into the preseason, there was the recently acquired Anquan Boldin and everybody else.
Unless the injury bug bites, Boldin should be just fine in 2013. What about everybody else, however? There were plenty of concerns before Thursday's game. After the loss, perhaps more linger.
One of the towering questions surrounded just who would step in and fill the void opposite of Boldin.
When the 49ers traded for Boldin, he and Crabtree were intended to be the receiver tandem. With Crabtree out for a sizable portion of 2013, someone else needs to step up.
Will it be returning veterans Mario Manningham or Kyle Williams? Perhaps it will be the still developing former first round pick A.J. Jenkins who finally lives up to his draft status. 2013 fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton could also be a factor, as may dark-horse candidates Chad Hall and Ricardo Lockette.
Yet after San Francisco's preseason opener, the questions surrounding the team's wide receivers loom as large as ever before.
There was not a lot to brag about coming from the 49ers receivers on Thursday. Wide receiver Kassim Osgood led all 49ers wide receivers with three receptions and 34 yards, followed by receivers Chuck Jacobs and Austin Collie, who recorded two receptions each.
Sure, it is only a preseason game, and none of the aforementioned names is likely to have significant impact during the regular season. Yet where is the production going to come from?
Boldin is clearly above and beyond the rest of the 49er receivers. There should be no doubt surrounding that. However, San Francisco's offense will require someone to spread the field to open up more opportunities for Boldin and the rest of the passing game.
Williams has resumed football activities following last year's ACL injury, which ended his 2012 season. While Williams is participating in practices, he did not suit up for Thursday's game. It is feasible to think that San Francisco's coaching staff is limiting his practice and aiming for a complete recovery before he takes the field in a larger role.
With that stated, is Williams really a No. 2 receiver?
The 49ers would probably like that role to go to Jenkins instead, yet Jenkins' preseason debut emulated his zero-catch rookie year more than his prospects for a successful 2013 season. His struggles were described by Matt Maiocco and Mindi Bach of CSN Bay Area following Thursday night's loss.
While Jenkins hauled in one pass for 11 yards, he subsequently fumbled it away, leading to one of four 49er turnovers.
With so much praise from San Francisco's coaching staff, and all the pressure associated with it, Jenkins' performance does not hint at greater things to come.
Regardless, Jenkins remained optimistic about his chances to impact the team in a positive way. Following the game, he stated:
Hopefully, I've made some strides. It's the first preseason game. We have three more games left. It's a long year. No need to panic and get all discouraged. Just got to keep watching film.
Yet watching film and putting knowledge into on-the-field play are two vastly different things.
Jenkins spent more time on the field than any other 49ers receiver yet recorded the lone catch that eventually resulted in a turnover.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh obviously expects more out of the second-year veteran and was quoted after the game via the Sacramento Bee: "Ah, it could have been better. We've got work to do in areas. We turned the ball over four times. Offensively, we've got work to do. ... Not pleased about that, turning the ball over."
Will Jenkins finally answer the call and become a legitimate No. 2 option? That question remains dire at best.
Despite the loss and seemingly inadequate production from wide receiver, there were a couple of bright spots at the position.
Osgood and Marlon Moore both received Harbaugh's praises following the game, as reported by CBS Sports writer Jamie Eisenberg. Moore's shining moment came when he executed a diving, 12-yard reception from quarterback Colin Kaepernick early in the first quarter.
Osgood took the field with the starting unit on Thursday night, and catches like that may indicate that he is there to stay.
Another dark horse could be Collie, who was brought in as an option to bolster the position.
Collie is one of only a few San Francisco receivers who have extended NFL experience. In four years with the Indianapolis Colts, Collie had a total of 173 receptions for 1,845 yards and 16 touchdowns.
While he had only two receptions for 20 yards against Denver, his veteran presence is something that could be of benefit to the 49ers in 2013.
In an interview published by Craig Massei via the Sacramento Bee, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman championed Collie's work ethic by stating:
Austin brings a great pedigree with him. He had an injury before that kind of halted that, but Austin's a guy who understands the game, a disciplined guy. He's learning our offense, but any time you have a guy who knows what to do, how to do it, understands coverage and all that, that's a bonus.
If Collie continues to develop his knowledge of the team's offense and is able to translate it over to the field, it may be reasonable to assume that Collie earns a starting spot.
After one preseason week, that question, along with many others, remains to be answered.
San Francisco is still waiting for one of its other receivers to step up and take over the No. 2 job. The offense is counting on it.
While the 49ers will assuredly benefit from the services of tight ends Vernon Davis and rookie Vance McDonald, the apparent lack of production from wide receiver remains a key question on offense.
Even Roman acknowledges that the answers are yet to be determined. "I don't know if there's always going to be one guy who's in there with the ones," Roman said on Sunday. "I think we've got some flexibility there, and that flexibility will continue to grow."
Roman's use of the word "flexibility" may be loosely based. San Francisco has to be flexible, considering there are still no viable options for a second, or even third, wide receiver at this point.
Certainly, one preseason game is only a small sample size, and nothing herein is worth panicking about. But the fact remains that the 49ers need to solve their wide receiver situation soon.
The next few preseason weeks may give them ample chance to do that, even if the results do not reveal what the team is hoping for.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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