Randy Moss may have caught almost every ball thrown to him this offseason, but he can’t seem to catch a break.
While the veteran wide receiver reported a day early to 49ers training camp in Santa Clara Wednesday -- perhaps a signal that yes, this is indeed a new Moss, ready to take a leadership role for the NFC West champions -- not everyone is buying into the Moss-as-impact-player storyline that has been shaped since he signed as a free agent this offseason.
While teammates and coaches say Moss has been the epitome of a professional and a leader on and and off the field, others look at him and see not the No. 84 on his jersey, but a No. 35. His age.
Despite his workout regimen and the fact he looked sharp in offseason drills, the former All-Pro wide receiver -- once the best wide receivers of his era -- is much older than the other top wideouts in the NFL.
Moss may have a new attitude, the thinking goes, but he has older legs.
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com’s Around the League editor, wrote this week that despite all the positive vibes coming from Niners headquarters about Moss this offseason, he’s not buying into the hype about “a 35-year-old receiver that didn’t play football last year.”
“Everyone seems to forget Moss was awful in 2010,” wrote Rosenthal. “Three teams gave up on him. He struggled to get off physical coverage near the line of scrimmage. That’s the type of coverage that isn’t allowed until camp. Let’s see how he does against a real defense."
Rosenthal looks at the 49ers’ receiving corps and sees Michael Crabtree as one starter and believes Mario Manningham, signed as a free agent from the Giants, as possibly the other starter, outplaying Moss in training camp.
Rosenthal’s projection for Moss this season: “Father time will remain undefeated. Those expecting a miracle from Moss will be disappointed.”
Rosenthal’s contrarian view is in contrast to the actions of Moss, who reported a day earlier than the required date for veterans in Santa Clara.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reported Moss strolled into the locker room Wednesday “with a suitcase in one hand and a balance ball -- for exercises -- in the other.”
Since Moss signed with the team, coach Jim Harbaugh has raved about his work ethic and the talent he’s shown on the field.
Moss, after all, has 954 career receptions for 14,858 yards, 153 touchdowns and a 15.6-yards per catch average. Though he bounced between the Titans, Vikings and Patriots in 2010 before deciding to sit out the 2011 season, Moss was a dynamic receiver as recently as 2009, when he had 83 catches for the Patriots for 1,264 yards and 13 TDs.
The 49ers are hoping he still has plenty left in the tank and can help stretch the team’s passing game while opening up options for others.
Can he be like Jerry Rice, who remained a marvel, catching 92 passes at age 40? Or will he fade quickly like Marvin Harrison and Andre Reed, two former receiving greats who were done by age 36?
One thing is certain: How Moss performs, on the field and off, will be one of the most interesting storylines in the 49ers’ training camp.