Time to play Woods

One reception for four yards. That was the combined output Sunday from veterans Cedrick Wilson and Curtis Conway, the 49ers' Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, which means it's time for San Francisco to start getting No. 1 draft pick Rashaun Woods on the field.

Coach Dennis Erickson - after watching the Niners get only two receptions from wideouts not named Brandon Lloyd in their 23-13 loss to the Chicago Bears - already has said as much.

"You'll probably see Rashaun Woods a little bit more," Erickson offered when asked if he is planning any personnel changes for this week's game against Seattle after the Niners offensively-challenged performance in Chicago, when they produced just 162 yards, their lowest total in 26 years.

"We're going to try and get him practicing a little bit more," Erickson continued. When asked if Woods would start seeing time in three-receiver sets, Erickson responded, "Well, it depends. He could become involved in four-receiver sets."

The Niners need to start getting Woods more involved now that they are 1-6 and going nowhere and the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart aren't producing like they were earlier in the season.

Sunday's game was the ultimate example. Fourth-year veteran Wilson and 12th-year veteran Conway didn't get much help from struggling quarterback Ken Dorsey, but both were nonfactors in a game for the first time this season.

As opponents become increasingly more aware of what the 49ers are trying to do - and are able to do - offensively, Wilson and Conway have increasingly encountered problems getting open and have become increasingly ineffective. The week before the bye, against the New York Jets, Wilson matched his previous season low with three receptions and Conway had just one reception for five yards.

Maybe Woods can do better. There's no reason the Niners shouldn't start finding out. After falling behind in the receiving pecking order with his hamstring problems during training camp, Woods couldn't push past No. 5 on the depth chart once the season began because the four receivers ahead of him were getting the job done.

But after Sunday's debacle, there is an opening now for the Niners to give Woods his opportunity.

"I just have to prove that I can make plays," Woods said. "It will give me the opportunities to move up the chart and get in the game."

The proving ground is practice, where Woods has displayed gradual development over the past two months but gets few opportunities while the Niners prepare Lloyd, Wilson, Conway and No. 4 receiver Arnaz Battle for game duty.

When SFI asked Woods how difficult it is to move up the depth chart with those four receivers in front of him, he responded, "It's tough, because you got to try to do something extra. You have to make that extra, the bigger catch. They'll make that catch, so you have to do something more spectacular.

"It's not like the other (positional) situations, where guys are hurt and they have to come in and do those things. Here, everybody is healthy, everybody is playing well. It's like, man, you're going against guys that are doing just as good as you, and all you can do is just try to make that one-handed, spectacular catch, just do something out of the ordinary that makes coaches say, 'Wow, this guy, he plays.'" The Niners should be doing that now with Woods.

It always takes rookie receivers - even the best ones - a while to get acclimated to the NFL game. But Woods has had almost half a season now to adjust, and the Niners certainly didn't select him with their top draft pick just to have him watch behind veterans who are disappearing in games.

"They expect me to come out and do well," said Woods, who produced two receptions - including an 18-yard touchdown catch - in fourth-quarter mop-up duty against the Rams on Oct. 3, which was his most extensive playing time this season. To date, those two catches represent his season total.

"Eventually, when I get my opportunity, I'm going to do what I need to do," Woods continued. "I'm going to be impressive. Until that opportunity comes, I just have to keep grinding it. But I feel like I've proved myself to be as good as where they picked me."

Now it's time for the 49ers to let Woods prove it on the field.


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