Conway coming

Curtis Conway made his debut as a 49er wearing jersey No. 1 on his back Thursday, but don't get the wrong impression. Coach Dennis Erickson said he isn't anointing the 12th-year veteran as a starter or moving him ahead of others in the team's receiving plans, though Conway definitely arrives with other ideas.

When SFI asked Conway where he feels he ultimately fits in with the 49ers this season, the 33-year-old with 556 career receptions and 139 NFL starts smiled unabashedly before responding.

"You know what I'm going to say," Conway replied with a chuckle. "I'm a starter. I've been a starter my whole career."

But Erickson reiterated his stance Thursday that Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd, despite their inexperience in the receiving spotlight, are the team's starting wideouts.

"Cedrick and Brandon are our two starters," Erickson said. "They have been here. They've played. They've done things here. They are our two starters if we are in two wide, unless something changes in training camp. But going into training camp, that's how it will be."

So, even though the organization immediately placed Conway's name ahead of Wilson's as the starting flanker on its Web site the day Conway was signed last week, the company line is that Conway is being brought in to help in other areas besides just the starting lineup.

Conway, who considered retirement after being released by the New York Jets a few months ago, says he is up for whatever role the team has in store for him.

In fact, he said Thursday's first practice with his fourth NFL team – Conway missed Wednesday's opener of a three-day passing camp due to a previous commitment – feels sort of like starting over.

"I feel like I'm just a guy in camp right now," Conway said. "I don't really know anything. Honestly, everything is just kind of up in the air. I feel like a freshman in college right now. I'm just taking it as I go. I have no expectations other than to go out and work hard and do the best I can to help this team win some games."

Even if that means being a mentor for the team's young and inexperienced group of receivers. Wilson and Lloyd are the only other receivers on the San Francisco roster who have caught a pass in an NFL game, and they combined for 49 receptions last season – three more than Conway caught with the Jets.

"I don't' really know much about anybody," Conway said. "But I'm definitely here to help if anybody needs it. Growing up in this league, I had guys that kind of showed me the little stuff along the way. Honestly, I feel like I'm just here to try to help win games, and if some of these young guys need help, I'll help them along the way."

Conway figures to offer San Francisco's rebuilding offense more help than just that. The reliable hands, good speed and smooth skills that have brought him success in the NFL still are intact, and his track record suggests it's possible he could become the team's most productive receiver this year.

After his first practice, Conway spent several minutes catching balls hurled at him by a pitching machine, then held court with the media during a lengthy and convivial introductory session. But not as important as he could become this season for a San Francisco offense searching for an identity.

"He looked good," Erickson said. "He hasn't, obviously, practiced in awhile. But he's been working out. Right now he's just kind of working on picking up our systems as far as the numerical system is concerned. I thought he ran routes, made some catches in there. He's an 11-year veteran. I'm not really concerned about him today as I am on July 30. He's a good addition. You can see he has experience and catches the football in his hands. Obviously, you don't play in the league as long as him without being pretty good."


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