Open competition at WR

This is what happens when you lose your two starting receivers from 2003: You invite 14 receivers to your first spring mini-camp of 2004. The 49ers had a large and eager group of WRs running around at team headquarters this weekend, and that is for a good reason. "We've got some big shoes to fill," said Brandon Lloyd, who looked like the best of a young bunch. "But we've got to move on. We've got a lot of young guys we have to develop. Young guys will eventually be the veterans of this team."

There aren't many veteran receivers on the Niners right now. But there are a lot of young guys at the position. Actually, too many young guys.

Only two of the 14 receivers the Niners had in camp this weekend were on the team's final 53-man roster last year, and only four have ever played in an NFL game.

That leaves plenty of open competition for roster berths after the offseason departure of last year's starting receivers, Terrell Owens and Tai Streets. Because of their youth and inexperience at the position, the Niners may keep six receivers this season.

Two of those slots will go to Lloyd and Wilson, and two will go to first-round draft pick Rashaun Woods and third-rounder Derrick Hamilton. Those four will compete for the starting roles next season along with Arnaz Battle, who now is healthy and was one of the players singled out by coach Dennis Erickson as being impressive during the mini-camp.

But, really, each of those players can be pushed – by each other and by some of the other young talent blowing up from behind in a cramped derby.

"Really, Cedrick and Brandon are heads and shoulders above anybody right now," Erickson said. "They have experience; they know what's going on. We have about seven or eight, nine guys out there including the two rookies (as legitimate roster candidates). Are they going to be experienced going into the season? No. But they are talented, they are practicing hard and they can make plays."

Wilson had 35 receptions last year as the team's No. 3 receiver and Lloyd had 14 catches as a rookie. They are the only returning receivers to catch a pass for the Niners last season. Those two players will have to prove they can be productive in more extensive roles now to earn starting berths, because the size and talent of Woods and Hamilton is undeniable.

"Rashaun Woods showed he is a very athletic, very polished receiver," Erickson said. "He's very fluid, he catches the football extremely well. He has good hands. You can see all of that. Derrick Hamilton is very explosive. These guys are all raw. But they have athletic ability. You can see that they have a lot of physical talent and now it's just a matter of learning. It's just a little different world for them right now."

And this young group of receivers wants to do it together, unlike last year, when Owens often appeared to be the sole focus of the passing game, to the detriment of the offense.

"We want everybody to be contributing factors to this team," Lloyd said. "That's how the West Coast Offense is. We saw last year that you just can't force the ball to one person and hope to win. Everyone has to contribute and everyone has to be a threat."

Said Wilson, "I don't know if we're trying to get a superstar here. I think were trying to get a full team together collectively to get back where we used to be. That's where championships come out of, and a championship is what this team is going after."


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