Training camp battleground: Flanker
With 2003 starting receivers Terrell Owens and Tai Streets gone, the Niners must find a completely new set of wideouts to run with their first team this year. Brandon Lloyd, a promising second-year player who came on strong at the end of his rookie season in 2003, asserted himself as the team's top target during the spring and appears to have a handle on the starting role at split end. Lloyd averaged a team-leading 15.1 yards per reception and turned two of his 14 catches into touchdowns last year, while also coming up with some of San Francisco's most spectacular grabs of the season. But it's not as clear who will start opposite Lloyd at flanker, though fourth-year pro Cedrick Wilson - the team's No. 3 receiver last year - was projected as the starter during the offseason and didn't do anything to lose his grip on that job during an impressive spring. Wilson was third on the team last year with 35 receptions (average 11.3 a catch and scoring two touchdowns), and he displayed equal parts confidence, experience and polish during the spring. Coach Dennis Erickson has stated clearly that Lloyd and Wilson are his starting receivers entering training camp, but a lot can happen there, and Wilson will be in a dogfight with 11th-year veteran Curtis Conway and, perhaps, rookie Rashaun Woods to secure the starting role for San Francisco's season opener. There is some sentiment among the team that Wilson is better suited to come out of the slot as the team's third receiver, a role which he handled capably last year in his first season in it. Conway, a late roster addition this spring who still appears to have something left, could make a major push at Wilson once the pads go on this summer and he has more time to absorb the San Francisco system. The veteran comes to San Francisco with 556 career receptions and still appears to have the skill and guile to be of starting caliber. And Woods, though he has been working at split end behind Lloyd, is a big, smooth, sure-handed receiver who figures prominently in San Francisco's future plans at receiver and also will be a factor in a three-player battle to start at this position.
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