Wilson still working to start

Curtis Conway may now be the grizzled graybeard of the group, but Cedrick Wilson still is the senior member of the 49ers receivers crew. That status means something on a team seriously lacking in veteran wideouts, and an incoming Conway doesn't really do much to change Wilson's approach, since he has been battling for respect and playing time since the day he was drafted by the Niners in 2001.

After losing 2003 starters Terrell Owens and Tai Streets during the offseason, the 49ers regrouped for their first spring minicamp with Wilson having twice as much experience with the team as any other receiver on the roster.

There's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with that for a player entering just his fourth NFL season, but Wilson gladly accepts the role of being a leader on the team's youngest positional unit.

"Man, it means a lot to me, it really does," Wilson told SFI. "It means a lot to me that the organization would have enough confidence in me to be that senior leader in the receiving corps, to carry on the tradition of the receivers that left the San Francisco 49ers. It's a great opportunity for me, and I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to make sure I'll be successful in this league."

Wilson got a taste of success last year in his third season after being elevated to the No. 3 receiving role behind Owens and Streets after J.J. Stokes was released. He started four games - some of those in three-receiver sets - and tied tight end Jed Weaver for third place on the team in receiving with 35 catches.

Several observers don't consider Wilson to be of true starter quality, but he entered the spring listed first at split end on San Francisco's depth chart. The speedster then clearly indicated to Niners' coaches during the team's first spring minicamp last month that he is ahead of the other receivers battling for that position.

That starting status changed immediately when Conway was hired, but Wilson doesn't plan to give up his place in San Francisco's pass-catching pecking order without a fight.

"If I'm No. 1 on the depth chart, I'm going to do everything in my power to stay there," Wilson said. "That's all I can say. Who would have even thought that Cedrick Wilson would be in the situation he is today? I've busted my butt, I've worked extremely hard to be in this situation. No matter if I go out and start against Atlanta (in the season opener) or if I don't start against Atlanta, I know I've worked my butt off. And that's the bottom line.

"What would I want most but to start? But I know it's going to take work. It's going to take me going out and catching every football, running as hard as I possibly can, making guys miss, being smart, being intelligent. It's going to take all those things, and I know that. So I've got to prepare myself as well. It's not going to be handed to me. It's something I definitely have to continue to work on and work for and master."

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