Does Lloyd still hold prominent place in WR plans?

Brandon Lloyd is the established veteran of the 49ers receivers corps now, and you almost can see the chip on his slender shoulder growing when he's asked the importance of the team having a No. 1, go-to pass-catcher in 2005 – and when it's inferred he might not be it. But if the Niners don't take Braylon Edwards in the draft next week (they probably won't), or sign David Boston afterward (they might not), it could be up to Lloyd to lead the way next season at WR, for lack of a better candidate.

It's that very kind of thinking that gets the third-year veteran just a little riled up.

"It doesn't matter," Lloyd shot back when asked his reaction to talk of the 49ers drafting Edwards, or some other hotshot college receiver, or bringing in Boston, or doing something – anything – to upgrade their current group of receivers. Again, the suggestion there is that it needs upgrading.

"Whatever's going to help this team," Lloyd continued, looking his questioner straight in the eye with a steely stare. "I mean, I'm very, very confident in my ability to play football out there. So, it doesn't matter who they bring in. But I'm sure they'll bring in somebody. Who they decide to bring in, in the draft or free agency-wise, it's going to be to help this team."

Lloyd could have helped himself more with the team last year with a stronger sophomore NFL season.

The lithe, 6-foot, 190-pounder was all potential entering 2004 after the promising finish to his rookie season of the year before. His acrobatic outburst of in-air athleticism earned Lloyd a starting role after 2003 starters Terrell Owens and Tai Streets bolted from the team via free agency, and the general consensus coming out of training camp was that he already was San Francisco's best receiver.

Though he led the team with six touchdown catches, Lloyd never had the breakout season some were expecting. He missed three games with minor injuries, never had a game with more than six catches, failed to produce one 100-yard receiving game and generally fell short of becoming anything close to the No. 1 receiver the team desperately needed.

And in the locker room, Lloyd turned off some veterans with his flashy style and a cloud of doubt surfaced about his work ethic and desire. Fair or not, something of a stigma has followed Lloyd into 2005, and there are many who doubt he ever can be a No. 1-caliber receiver, or perhaps even a solid No. 2.

What do you think, Brandon?

"I want to be whatever is going to help this team win," Lloyd responded when SFI asked if he wants to be the No. 1 receiver on this team.

So we put the question to him another way. Now that Cedrick Wilson – San Francisco's leader among wideouts last year with 47 receptions – is gone, is it important now for Lloyd to establish himself as the No. 1?

Once again, the kid did not hesitate. With dark eyes blazing, he gave another indirect answer.

"A lot of things were up in the air last year," he said. "I mean, it's whatever. The emphasis this year is going to be to utilize what … you know, we're going to do what the play is determined. That's basically what it's going to be. If my skills help the team in the slot, and I have to play slot, then I'll be in the slot. As long as we get a win. I mean, there's one objective, and that's to win."

Yes, but is it important now to have that No. 1, go-to guy at… "I don't know," Lloyd answered before the question was finished. "I haven't been in a system where there was a focus on a No. 1 guy. Yet. I don't know what the coaches have said about it. They haven't mentioned it to us. We're just going out there and playing football right now."

During the team's minicamp for veterans earlier this month, Lloyd looked smooth and skilled, and he impressed new coach Mike Nolan with his ability to go and get passes. But that hasn't prevented Nolan from being open about his interest in bringing in more quality at receiver via the draft or free agency.

To Lloyd's credit, he has a veteran air about him now. Last season was difficult for all the 49ers – particularly the young ones – and Lloyd obviously has learned from it.

It has made him harder, and the exuberant smile and loud laugh of his rookie season don't come around like they once did. But those qualities still are there. They're just part of a veteran quality now.

"It feels great," Lloyd said of his new status as the established graybeard of receivers. "If I'm not ready, I don't have a choice. Hey, it's a good deal. I feel I set a good example as far as offseason program, as far as offseason training, my work ethic, my studying the films. I think the blueprint is laid out for the guys to jump on and take charge. So, that's pretty much all I can do. From my two years of experience in the league, I feel that all I can do is set an example, so when I speak, I have more respect because I've already set an example."

In truth, Lloyd deserves more respect than he's getting these days. He still has the talent and charisma to be a true asset to the 49ers and their new direction. But all that's going to matter to anyone now, after the tumult of last season, is results.

The results weren't bad last year. Lloyd had 43 receptions for 565 yards, a 13.1 average, and his six TD catches were twice as many as anybody else on the squad. But he had difficulty separating from opposing cornerbacks and could be taken out of games by the good ones.

He also does not possess the size or speed of any of the team's other front-line candidates at receiver. That, ostensibly, includes the one or two the Niners will bring in during the next month or three.

But Lloyd does have special qualities not possessed by any of the others. He also currently has a starting job, not to mention the distinction of being San Francisco's leading returning wideout.

Those things mean something. For now, at least. It's up to Lloyd to turn them into something by this time in September.

"You've got to get better," he said. "And getting better comes with time. But football is football. I mean, there's an urgency to get down the new stuff that (new coaches are) teaching. And then, football's football. If you're good before, you're still going to be good."

Which is to say, for Brandon Lloyd, it's going to take getting better to be good enough to remain foremost in the 49ers' receiving plans.


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