WR corps receiving plenty of attention from Niners

It's a good year to be seeking a young wide receiver, with the college draft deep in prospects of quality and potential. That and other obvious reasons make it essential the 49ers get it right at WR the next few months, particularly when they consider drafting one in April. "With Tai Streets being a restricted free agent and T.O. being in the last year of his contract," Niners GM Terry Donahue said, "we have to take a very hard look at the wide receiver position and how we man it in the future."

The Niners got a break in February when Streets was declared a restricted free agent instead of unrestricted, which meant the team was able to tender him a one-year contract at $1.318 million. That essentially means Streets will be back with the team in 2003 to pair with Owens, allowing the Niners to groom a young prospect who doesn't necessarily have to come in and be an immediate starter.

That might allow the Niners a little more luxury to select a prospect that is more raw than refined, and has the kind of game-breaking speed that can make a difference once his receiving skills are developed.

"Everybody in this league wants more speed," Donahue said. "That is not unique to us. Downfield speed is always a concern in this league. There isn't a team in the league not clamoring for more speed. You have to have wideouts who can run and people who can get open. We all feel like that. The question is how do you get them and where do you get them.

"We are always looking for speed. We came in four years ago and said we were going to be young, fast and healthy. We didn't list 10 qualities. We listed three. Speed relates to every position on the team, not just wide receiver."

But wide receiver is the position at which it's the most obvious need for the Niners, particularly now that Dennis Erickson has taken over as head coach. With Erickson's philosophy of spreading the field and using three- and four-receiver sets, a speed receiver becomes the Niners' No. 1 priority in the months leading up to April 26-27 draft.

Veteran J.J. Stokes would no longer seem to fit into these plans, but the team did not cut him and his exorbitant salary to get under the salary cap by Feb. 28, and Donahue is talking like Stokes remains a part of the current plans.

"J.J. is like any other player on the team," Donahue said. "I know he has been singled out in the media. He is going to come in, practice and get to know the coaches and show them what he has. His situation is the same as any football player on the team. He is under contract and he will compete, work hard and show what he can do."

More likely, however, Stokes will be cut after June 1 to realize cap savings. By then, the Niners ostensibly will have made several moves regarding their WR corps.

"We have to spend a lot of time talking about it and how we are going to solve it," Donahue said.

For the Niners, that time is now.


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