Young talent making mark at WR

When Jeff Garcia drops back to pass these days at 49ers training camp, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback likes what he sees. There's a fresh new target breaking free down the sideline. There's another streaking open underneath. In fact, there's a talented target wherever Garcia attempts to throw. And that has Garcia calling it the best talent he has had to play catch with since he joined the 49ers.

"I think if you look at the talent level of this receiving corps, it's better than it ever has been in a training camp that I've been involved with," Garcia told SFI on Thursday.

Best ever? This is a guy who once worked in the same training camp with guys named Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes.

Now Rice is long gone, and Stokes has finally joined him after being released in June, and Garcia is saying it's better to be out with the old and in with the new.

"Just the depth level, the competitiveness, the athletic ability of some of these guys," Garcia said. "Even when you look at the guys that probably are considered No. 7, No. 8 and even No. 9 down the list, they're all very talented. They're all guys who can compete to make this team, who can make plays on the field."

The Niners currently have 12 receivers competing for what likely will be no more than five spots on their final 53-man roster. That list has a few mainstay veteran talents, but it also is dotted with several fresh faces who have impressed Garcia and the team's coaches.

One of the Niners' top priorities for 2003 was upgrading their depth at receiver behind starters Owens and Tai Streets. They released former No. 1 pick Stokes in June and made no major acquisitions in free agency, opting to replenish their receiving corps through the draft and with young prospects.

The Niners also are counting on Cedrick Wilson's emergence this year. The third-year receiver was one of the team's stars of spring minicamps and he has carried over that progress to the summer, providing a dimension of speed as the No. 3 receiver that the Niners did not have last year with Stokes.

"He has great quickness and speed and a great understanding of the offense," Garcia said. "He's going to step in and be an asset this year, and that receiver position is going to be very important to the team this year."

Fourth-round draft pick Brandon Lloyd is asserting himself as the No. 4 receiver, a position that figures to get more action this year in new coach Dennis Erickson's passing sets.

Lloyd leads a logjam of young talent competing for the final roster berths at receiver. Holdovers James Jordan and Aaron Lockett have had their moments in practice and are being challenged by Canadian Football League product Arland Bruce and sixth-round draft pick Arnaz Battle.

The Niners added to that competition earlier this week when they signed rookie Jermaine Lewis and second-year pro Justin Skaggs, who played with the Washington Redskins last year.

"(Lloyd) has been very impressive to me," Erickson said. "He is very smooth, one of the smoother athletes I've been around. He is a little more polished. But I like where a lot of these guys are at right now."

And when speaking of pure talent, Erickson doesn't go far down his list of receivers. Instead, he stays right at the top. While several of the Niners' young receivers impress daily with their development, they still aren't in a class with Owens and Streets, who both are having outstanding camps. They still are the pacesetters in this young and promising group./p> "Tai's a darn good football player who will make a lot of plays for us," Erickson said. "And Terrell is what he is: One of the best players in the league."


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