Weaver Niners new receiving weapon?

One big hit on Eric Johnson last week meant one big leap in Jed Weaver's value to the 49ers. And the fifth-year veteran, in his first year with the team, is anxious to show everybody his worth. "I expect to step in and be the guy now," said Weaver, San Francisco's new starting tight end. The Niners - with Johnson out at least the first 10 weeks of the season with a broken collarbone - are expecting the very same thing.

The Niners were anticipating a larger role in the passing game this year for Johnson, who showed promise as a receiving tight end with 76 catches in his first two NFL seasons. Now that role in coach Dennis Erickson's revamped attack falls to Weaver, who was expecting to complement Johnson this season instead of being the team's go-to tight end.

"Hopefully, I can do what (Johnson)'s done in the last couple of years and hopefully even more," Weaver said. "I'll just do whatever it takes, whatever they ask me to do within the offensive scheme to help this team put points on the board and win games."

Weaver certainly isn't lacking in confidence to get the job done. After Johnson went down after being belted by Dale Carter on the first play from scrimmage in Saturday's game, Weaver stepped in and produced four receptions for 39 yards, catching everything that came his way.

"This is my fifth year in the league," Weaver said. "I've been around for a while. I hope this is the opportunity that I've been waiting for. I didn't want it to come about by someone getting injured. But that's just the nature of the beast, as we say. You gotta fill in and keep rolling."

Weaver has been attempting to shed a label as a blocking tight end since he came into the league. He averaged 13.8 yards on his 34 receptions the past three years while playing for the Miami Dolphins. He had just six receptions last year, but three of them went for touchdowns.

"It's kind of funny," Weaver said. "You always get labeled one way or another. My first year in Philly, I was labeled the blocking guy. For two years in Miami, I was the receiving tight end, and then last year I became a blocking tight end again. But it's never been both. So hopefully now with this opportunity I can prove to people that I can do both equally well and be a well-rounded guy rather than just one-dimensional.

"But I've always said, if you catch the passes they throw to you, hopefully they'll try to find a way to throw to you more. You just keep catching the ones they throw and hopefully there will be more and more."

Weaver pretty much can count on that. Erickson said Johnson's injury won't change his plans on getting the tight end more involved this season. Weaver can handle the increased role just fine.

"That's the reason we signed him as a free agent," Erickson said. "He catches the ball well and he makes good plays as a blocker. Jed's an outstanding player who has proven himself in this league. He was always very competitive with Eric. He's played well since the team he got here."

With Weaver ready to take over the lead role at tight end, the Niners are unlikely to look for more free-agent help at the position while Johnson is on the mend. Rookie Aaron Walker, the team's fifth-round draft choice, will move into Weaver's old role as the second tight end, and long-snapper Brian Jennings also can be called upon in a pinch.

General manager Terry Donahue said Johnson's injury hurts the team much less because Weaver is around. Through three preseason games, the newcomer is the Niners' leading receiver with seven catches.

"It's a serious blow, because Eric is a very good player, and he's a viable pass-receiving threat and that sort of thing," Donahue said. "But we like Jed Weaver. People said we didn't do anything in the offseason. But I'm awfully happy right now that we got Jed. We need him."

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