Niners in good hands

When SFI asked Dennis Erickson late Friday morning what was the most encouraging thing about the 49ers' passing game that he saw during the past three days at the team's passing camp, the Niners' second-year coach didn't hesitate to reply.

"I thought our receivers caught the football really well," Erickson said.

It can't get much better than that at a passing camp. After all, the passing game goes nowhere unless those passes stop abruptly in the sticky hands of receivers. And that was happening quite often over the past three days at 49ers headquarters.

It's still a little early to call the 49ers a Good Hands Team, but it was an encouraging sign that San Francisco's top group of receivers probably dropped fewer passes in team drills during this entire three-day session than Terrell Owens dropped in the 15 games he played for the Niners last season.

We've been pointing out lately that third-round draft choice Derrick Hamilton needs some work to refine his game at this level. But on the final day of camp, Hamilton, too, was displaying fine hands, leaving his feet to make some tough grabs, showing discipline by bringing the ball in with both his mitts.

He wasn't the only one.

"You can see so much improvement," Erickson said. "Again, I've talked about (first-round pick) Rashaun Woods, and I should talk about Derrick Hamilton in the same breath. You look at him today compared with that first minicamp (in May), it's the difference between night and day, because they know what they're doing."

They also know how to consistently snag any pass reasonably close to their area, which makes getting themselves open and in position to make those catches the next step that must be made in their progression. Woods, especially, has displayed the sure hands that made him a record-setting college receiver at Oklahoma State.

On a comeback route Friday, Woods appeared to take his eyes off the ball as he pulled in a pass from Ken Dorsey. The ball momentarily crawled down Woods' wrists before he cradled it into his arms and brought it to his chest. The split-second bobble was notable mainly because it stood out from Woods' normal routine, which usually sees him pulling in passes effortlessly and in stride without any glitches.

Of course, as can be expected, the team's two top returning receivers - Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd - were collecting catches on a steady basis, doing what they need to do to remain atop the depth chart at flanker and split end, respectively, as the team rounds the corner into its final spring minicamp next week, which will end with the serious business of training camp just seven weeks away.

Coming out Thursday - a day after camp began - even veteran Curtis Conway was getting in the act, and though Erickson has stated that Wilson and Lloyd are the undisputed starters - at least until training camp begins - Conway will be a receiver to contend with once the team puts on the pads come July 30.

But even the seasoned Conway - who comes to the Niners on the verge of breaking into the NFL's top 50 all-time leading receivers with 556 career receptions - realizes the young receivers he's now competing against in practice will be catching up and growing on him by the day.

"I do see a lot of talent at the receiver position," Conway said. "I was watching a couple of receivers, and they were saying how they needed some help here, but these guys, I think they just haven't had a chance to prove themselves yet. They're young guys, anywhere from four (NFL years of experience) on down. And T.O.'s been the man (here), and Jerry (Rice) was the man. Some of these young guys haven't had a chance to be the man. So, it's going to be interesting to see which one of these guys breaks out."

Niners Digest Top Stories