Out of the Woods

During his first practice of training camp Saturday, Rashaun Woods was little more than an afterthought in the 49ers' offense. But that will change quickly now that the first-round draft pick has donned the pads and joined the team after signing a contract late Friday afternoon that made him a multimillionaire.

The progress Woods makes now that the serious summer preparation process has begun will determine whether the team can count on him to make an impact this year on a young receiving corps that definitely is looking for – and needs – some impact performers.

The Niners have downplayed all year the fact that they basically are starting over at receiver after the loss of 2003 starters Terrell Owens and Tai Streets, but it's obvious to all that they didn't spend their top draft pick in April on Woods just to have him sit and watch behind guys such as Cedrick Wilson and Curtis Conway.

When asked Saturday if the Niners need Woods to contribute this year – a question that has an obvious answer, considering the team's lack of experience and proven talent at the position – coach Dennis Erickson responded, "I would like to think he could, yeah. From what I've seen, I'm sure he will."

But Erickson realizes that history indicates you can't expect a lot from rookie receivers. Even the great Jerry Rice struggled at the start of his rookie season before breaking into the starting lineup late in the year.

"In my experience in the league, you don't see many of them (rookies) jump off the chart, really," Erickson said. "(Arizona's) Anquan Boldin, last year, had a heck of a year. He was a second-round pick, but you just don't know. Again, we drafted (Woods) because we think he can have some positive impact on this football team this year."

Woods, as is his laid-back style, made no bold predictions that he will come in and set the Niners' receiving game on fire.

"I try not to foresee anything," he said. "I really go about it like I'm going to come out and play to give the best of my ability and whatever happens, happens. I'm just going to come out and give 100 percent, and that's all I can really do."

In reality, the Niners need that 100 percent to translate into about 50 or more catches this season. But after his first padded practice as a 49er, Woods sounded more like a fresh-faced youngster who only is interested in taking things one step at a time.

Even if the Niners, privately, would like to see him go a little faster.

"It's just like being a freshman again," Woods said. "As a freshman in college, it takes you about a year to get acclimated. You just have to do it a little bit faster now. You may have to take a couple of months, or a month, or a couple of weeks. You just have to get used to it and say, ‘This is how it is, I have to step up my game.'

"The guys (at this level) are bigger, stronger and faster. I mean, it's a big difference. When you try to come up and block a guy who's benching, like, 500 (pounds) or something like that, it's a little different, and he's just as fast (as you) or a little faster. It's something you've got to get used to and it's something you've got to get used to quick."

Woods didn't get many passes his way Saturday morning, but he'll be worked into the mainstream offensive plans quickly as the Niners attempt to get a grasp on where he fits into their offensive plans.

They hope he'll fit in prominently. Erickson said that the Niners are "going to play the four best guys" at receiver this season. Woods obviously needs to be one of those four. Where he ranks on the list of four is the issue that will be decided the next month.

"I'm seeing Rashaun, and the things he does, and I'm sure he'll have a real influence on us," Erickson said. "I think the biggest thing with Rashaun is learning the offense, knowing what (he has) to do, so (he) can unload when (he) comes off the football, instead of having to think all the time. He'll get that down; he has a lot of time."

Time is all he needs, Woods said.

"When I made that transition (in college), it was just about making plays," Woods said. "All of a sudden, in my sophomore year, I just started to make plays. I just sort of stepped up to that role, and I feel I can do the same thing here. When the time is good and I begin to get more comfortable and more confident, I will start to make plays just like I did in my previous years."

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