A go-to group at WR?

The 49ers won't have Terrell Owens clamoring for the football every play this season, and that could become a very positive thing. The San Francisco offense used to be built around its primary receiver, but now that the go-to guy is gone, the Niners are constructing a revised attack that could feature "four or five (targets) that are very equal," according to coach Dennis Erickson.

Let's face it. While Owens fretted and complained about not getting the ball enough last year, his impact on the offense diminished to its lowest point since he became an elite star in 2000. The Niners, obviously, hope to develop a receiver of Owens' quality and impact as soon as possible, but the new wrinkles being added to their attack will allow several receivers to shine and not make the offense so reliant on one wideout.

"In the game of football, if you're throwing the football, you're going to go to where the reads tell you. That's how it should be," Erickson said. "We feel we can move guys around, and we're not as concerned where we're putting receivers because we are going to try and throw it to everybody.

"We don't have T.O. anymore. He was a go-to guy. People doubled him and did some different things to him. A lot of this offense, when I first got here and over the years, was to move (Owens) around to get him in different positions. We can do that still, we still have that, but at this point we don't need to do that because we don't know who (opponents) are going to double or triple or whatever. If you have a guy that's a great receiver and you find him one-on-one or you find a way to get him one-on-one, then obviously you want to take advantage of that. Now, you just go through what you read and you go to whomever. It doesn't make any difference."

But it could make a difference for the Niners, who never really clicked through the airwaves last year with the temperamental and enigmatic Owens demanding to be such a focal point of the attack, then making sure everybody heard about it if and when he wasn't.

But most often, he was.

Last year, roughly one third of San Francisco's passes were intended for Owens, who finished with 80 receptions and was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. Alas, by the standards he set previously, it actually was a mediocre season for Owens as only 55 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2003 turned into receptions.

The Niners completed nearly 60 percent of their passes intended for players other than Owens last season.

Draw your own conclusions, but it's no stretch that a better diversity of targets could mean increased passing productivity for the Niners with a new set of players poised to take over as the team's top receivers.

"We've got stuff where we try to get it to certain people, but it's a progression offense," said second-year quarterback Ken Dorsey, who's in charge of running that offense while Tim Rattay recovers from groin surgery. "We're just trying to give ourselves an advantage and maximize our matchups with the guys we do have and put as much pressure on the defense as possible in every situation. You're just trying to work the strengths of your offense."

With starting receivers Owens and Tai Streets gone from last year, the Niners strength at receiver may be in numbers, because Owens had more receptions last year than projected 2004 starters Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd have combined for in their careers (64).

Recently-acquired veteran Curtis Conway is the only other receiver on San Francisco's roster who has caught a pass in an NFL game. First-round draft pick Rashaun Woods and third-rounder Derrick Hamilton also are vying to get in the mix at receiver.

"The great thing for the receivers is that they know they will always have an opportunity to catch the ball," Dorsey said. "I think that's what they're excited about is, no matter what route and what situation, the ball is going to come to them. That's a great opportunity for everybody."

And a great opportunity for the Niners, who would like to devise a passing attack that doesn't succeed or fail based on the fluctuating performance and volatility of one individual.


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