Battle-tested building block?

Of the 10 wide receivers currently on the 49ers roster, only Arnaz Battle is assured today of having a significant role in the team's 2006 plans. The Niners made Battle a fixture of their future by signing him to a contract extension through 2009, but where he fits still is open to conjecture. Battle doesn't figure to be more than a No. 2 or even No. 3 WR when the 49ers finally get it all settled at the position, but he's No. 1 right now until the team determines who will fill that post in 2006.

That role again could belong to Battle's 2003 classmate, Brandon Lloyd, who was by far the team's most productive receiver last season when he led the 49ers with 48 receptions for 733 yards and five touchdowns, including several acrobatic grabs that made the weekly highlight reels.

But Lloyd often was a one-dimensional receiver who lacked consistency, not to mention the size and toughness in going over the middle that was displayed by Battle. Lloyd and Battle – San Francisco's third- and sixth-round selections, respectively, in the 2003 draft – both were slated to be restricted free agents in March. The team moved quickly in December to keep Battle around as a building block while leaving Lloyd's status in limbo.

With the 49ers not really knowing what they can expect from the plethora of other young receivers on their roster, it leaves Battle carrying the torch for the receiving corps into 2006, at least until the team decides what it will do with Lloyd and also what it plans to do at the position in free agency and the draft.

Two things are for sure: The 49ers need to be better at the position than they were in 2005, and Battle will be a part of them getting better there.

"I definitely embrace it," Battle said. "I've always been the kind of leader who leads by example, by action. I have to take that responsibility and continue to work hard and push my teammates. I think this is a great opportunity for me to take my career to the next level."

Battle won over San Francisco's new regime this year with his character, work ethic, toughness and team-first mentality, all things that fit in well with what the new coaching staff is looking for. In his first year as a starter, he also displayed the ability to be a legitimate threat in the passing game, averaging 11.3 yards on his 32 receptions and scoring three times.

Battle displayed an ability and willingness to do what no other receiver on the San Francisco roster did in 2005 – go over the middle and make the tough grab in traffic. That helped loosen things up on the other side for the more-spectacular Lloyd. Battle also displayed the versatility to both run and pass on option plays. He rushed for 11 yards last season and also completed both of his 2005 passes for 27 yards, finishing with a passer rating of 118.8.

But what the 49ers didn't see from Battle was durability, which made his four-year contract extension something of a surprise. Battle missed six games with a nagging knee injury in 2005, and he was limited by the injury to no catches in two of his eight starts. He didn't start two other games in which he combined for just three catches.

Battle, who missed eight games because of a toe injury in 2003 and two games with a thigh injury in 2004, spent most of January resting his knee and will not require offseason surgery.

"I'm OK surgery-wise," he said. "The main thing for me is just letting my knee rest right now. It's taken a pounding trying to get back on the field early (last season) and trying to be productive and make something happen to get the offense going. The thing for me is just rest it and start my rehab and get ready for another offseason."

The 49ers' offseason program begins in late March, and Battle plans to be a regular so that he can develop a rapport with quarterback Alex Smith, something the two never really were able to do last season because of injuries to both of them, along with overall offensive transition.

"It's very important to get out there with Alex Smith and get some kind of chemistry born," Battle said. "I think there was some rapport built (in 2005), but we have a long ways to go and this offseason is going to be key for us to get on the field and get our timing down and understanding what each other's thinking as far as route-running and timing. That will start in March. The offseason is going to be key for us to build that rapport and that chemistry to help us bond and come out and play as a team."

Battle does not have the blazing speed and explosiveness to be a big-time, No. 1 threat that the 49ers so sorely need in their passing game. But with the right receivers around him, he could become a fine, complementary threat who can be productive as a possession receiver who can find seams and also help the team as a blocker down the field.

Battle aspires to be even more than that, and he can count on getting his opportunity to do so as the 49ers move forward.

"It's good to have that security, to know that I'm here for the next four years, at least contract-wise," Battle said. "It's a great opportunity to be a part of a rebuilding stage that we're trying to go through, and I think things will turn around."

Battle will be around to see the turnaround, with the part he plays in that now up to him.

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