Intriguing new parts for passing game

The second day of the NFL draft found the 49ers gaining ammunition for coach Dennis Erickson's prolific passing attack. The Niners added Florida tight end Aaron Walker and Notre Dame receiver Arnaz Battle to fourth-round catch Brandon Lloyd, and that's a serious influx of potential that will bring new dynamics to the team's aerial attack. "Today has been a pretty good day," Erickson said. "We're in pretty good shape right now." So is a receiving group that needed some help before the day began.

The Niners also added ultra-successful Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey with their final pick in the seventh round, but he'll be a project the team will hope to develop for the future - if he can stick on the roster.

That won't be the case with the three picks that came before Dorsey. Each has a chance to make an impact in 2003.

Lloyd should help right away, and Battle - the converted quarterback from Notre Dame - is an intriguing prospect who could surprise as he develops at his new position.

Walker - also something of a late bloomer - could be ready to step in and challenge recently-acquired free-agent Jed Weaver for the No. 2 tight end role behind starter Eric Johnson. At 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, he's a big and inviting target who blossomed as a senior when the Gators gave the tight end a bigger role in the offense.

"What he has on the upside is he's a guy that can really run," Erickson said. "He's a guy that's obviously going to get bigger and stronger and can really develop. This guy could come in and be our third or second tight end and really create some problems in the passing game for people."

Erickson has big plans to do just that with his offense this year, and now he has added three new parts that will make the skill of that unit younger and faster.

And more likely to get the ball down the field than the 49ers of 2002.

Walker averaged 13.9 yards a catch last year, an impressive figure for a tight end. Lloyd finished his distinguished college career with an average of 16.1 yards on his 160 receptions. Battle averaged 14.6 yards a catch last year - his first as a full-time starting receiver after playing quarterback for parts of three seasons at Notre Dame.

Battle still is raw at the position, but he displayed great potential in the West Coast system last year under coach Tyrone Willingham. He's explosive and tough with above-average speed and there's no doubt he knows what to do with the football in his hands. He gained 157 yards rushing in Notre Dame's first two games of 2000 as the Irish's starting quarterback before redshirting the rest of that season and re-emerging as a WR the next year.

"As far as my strong point, I think yards after the catch is what I do best," Battle said. "I'm a guy who catches the ball and looks to make something happen."

The Niners have more than a few of those guys now.

And maybe, if Dorsey can develop arm strength and the accuracy to perform at this level, they also found someone to throw it to them down the road.


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