Unrest at receiver
Wilson is unhappy because he's losing playing time to Woods, the team's first-round pick in the April draft. Woods is unhappy because passes aren't coming his way now that he finally is starting to appear in games for more than a few plays. Just what the 49ers need. More unrest in the locker room. But this dissonance is entirely understandable, considering where it's coming from. That said, the Niners are doing what they need to do – and doing the right thing – by cutting into Wilson's playing time to give Woods more opportunities. With the team entrenched in its worst start in the past quarter-century, the 1-8 Niners need to start getting their younger players out on the field for a longer look. Woods is at the top of that list. And so it finally came to pass last week against the Carolina Panthers. After saying for weeks that he intended to get Woods more involved in the offensive game plan, coach Dennis Erickson finally did it. Woods – buried as the No. 5 receiver on the team's depth chart – was on the field for 15 plays. But those plays came mostly at the expense of fourth-year veteran Wilson, the team's starting flanker who admitted it kept him from focusing on the task at hand. "I was frustrated by it and I kind of felt like it affected my play," Wilson said. "There was a couple of plays where I wasn't mentally in the game. I really don't need those kind of distractions. I understand that (Woods) has to prove himself, but I'm still in the era of proving myself and I want every opportunity to prove myself to this organization because I want to be here." The distraction didn't affect Wilson's production. Despite rotating more often at receiver, Wilson had five catches and set a career high with 101 yards receiving during a 37-27 loss to the Panthers. He now ranks second on the team in receiving to tight end Eric Johnson and leads all San Francisco wideouts with 31 catches for 426 yards. But the 49ers are grooming Woods primarily at the flanker position, and that is where they are putting him in games. Let's face it. They need to groom the kid to be a major factor in their offense by next season – not the afterthought he has been in that attack so far this year. Realizing as much, Erickson said the plan for Woods this week is "to get him 20 to 25" plays. "We're trying to work him in," Erickson said. "We believe he can make plays and help us win. We believe, in the future, he's a guy that can help us win. That's part of it. None of those guys like to be taken out. I don't blame them. They've earned the right to play. They understand it and they don't understand it." Woods, the 31st overall selection in this year's draft, played only sparingly in San Francisco's first eight games before seeing more extensive action last week. His only two receptions this season came during mop-up time in the fourth quarter of an October loss to St. Louis. On Thursday, when SFI asked Woods if he was getting open against Carolina, he responded, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," – but said the ball never came his way. Woods estimated only five passes have been thrown his way all season – with none of those coming toward young No. 81 last week. "I'm getting open," Woods said. "I'm doing my job. Trust me, me getting open is not the problem at all. Everybody's getting open. I watch film and people are getting open. But if (the quarterback) doesn't come your way, that's just how it is, man. I mean, I can be open 20 times but nobody will ever know it if I don't get the ball, you know what I'm saying? It's a team game, and just because you're open doesn't mean you're going to get it." Given the limited opportunities he has been getting, Woods would be happy to see any – and he means any – passes come his way. "Just because you're open 10 times doesn't mean you're going to get 10 balls," Woods said. "You'd be happy – especially in my situation, being a guy who's still unaccustomed to proving himself – you're open five (times), you'd be glad to get one, you know what I mean? Just glad (with) whatever portion you get." Woods was expected to challenge for Wilson's starting position this season but fell behind when he missed almost three weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury that lingered into the season. Veteran Curtis Conway and second-year player Arnaz Battle also moved ahead of Woods on the depth chart and have contributed to San Francisco's passing game. Conway has 29 receptions for 318 yards and Battle – the NFC's fifth-leading punt returner – leads the 49ers with a 21.2-yard average on his six receptions. The 49ers continue to use those two receivers in situational roles, meaning Wilson often leaves the field when Woods enters the huddle. Brandon Lloyd starts opposite Wilson at split end, where Lloyd has 30 receptions for 385 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. After seeing limited action in his first two NFL seasons, Wilson had 35 receptions last year as San Francisco's third receiver behind departed starters Terrell Owens and Tai Streets. Wilson becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and his future with the 49ers is uncertain. He knows it. Everybody knows it. So he's trying to give the Niners as many reasons as possible to want to keep him around. "I want to play," Wilson said. "I haven't played much. I've been around here three years and I haven't had an opportunity to be on the field all the time every snap. That's what I want. I want to be on the field every snap. I don't care if it's a run or pass. I want to be on the field, out there in the battle competing with my teammates." Woods also has been frustrated by a lack of playing time that has left him well behind the receiving totals produced this season by all but one of the other six receivers selected in this year's first round. Woods will see one of those receivers on the opposite sideline this week when the 49ers travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton – the 15th overall pick – leads all rookie receivers and is sixth in the NFC with 48 receptions for 685 yards. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (third overall pick) has 32 receptions for 465 yards, Detroit's Roy Williams (seventh overall) 29 for 459, Jacksonville's Reggie Williams (ninth overall) 18 for 150 and Buffalo's Lee Evans (13th overall) 17 for 336. Atlanta's Michael Jenkins (29th overall) is the only first-round receiver to have fewer catches this season. Jenkins has one reception for 46 yards. "I look at those guys and I'm happy for all of them that things are going well," Woods said. "Just about every guy is going to get his shot. Right now, this is the situation I am in, and I can't really worry about that. My situation is just to go out and perform and do things that I know how to do, and do them the best I can with the plays that I do get." He'll be getting more this week. Which means somebody else will be getting less. How do you think that will go over with some of the team's other receivers? Wilson, bless his competitive soul, already has given you the answer.
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