Wide receiver Kyle Williams (No. 10) is part of a group of wideouts trying to fill a role as the 49ers' No. 2 receiver. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Quinton Patton has had a tough break in his rookie season in the NFL.
Two of them, actually.
First, he broke a finger in training camp that delayed his bid to earn playing time. Then, last Thursday night in his first pro start for the 49ers against the Rams, the fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech suffered a fracture in his foot shortly after catching his first, official pass, and he’s expected to miss several weeks.
It’s all been part of a series of problems for the 49ers receiving corps that has hampered the San Francisco offense. At 2-2, San Francisco is still looking for a solid No. 2 target at wide receiver as it begins preparations for Sunday night’s matchup against the Houston Texans at Candlestick Park.
Anquan Boldin has been outstanding, but Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, Patton and Jonathan Baldwin have combined for just 13 receptions – with nine of those belonging to Williams.
Veteran Mario Manningham is expected back to practice in about two weeks, and Michael Crabtree could be back in late November. But what do the 49ers do in the meantime?
In games against the Seahawks and Colts, quarterback Colin Kaepernick seemed unable to find wide receivers who were struggling to get open. With opponents paying attention to shutting down Boldin, another dependable wideout is needed.
The Niners hope Baldwin is the answer, and he’s expected to get some work against the Texans.
Baldwin, acquired in August from the Chiefs in a trade for A.J. Jenkins, was activated for his first regular-season game against the Rams and had two catches for 19 yards.
“(I) feel like sometimes I’ve got an eye for a competitive heart,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I see it with Jon. He made a couple tough catches. Handled it. There’ll be more action for him.”
Baldwin showed flashes of brilliance with the Chiefs over two seasons as a big target (6-foot-4) with good speed. He had 41 catches in Kansas City, averaging 13.9 yards per reception. But in his brief career, Baldwin has had many drops. Consider: in 2012 he was targeted 47 times but had 20 catches. In 2011, he had 21 catches on 52 throws his way. Not all of those were catchable balls, of course. But it was certainly a concern in Kansas City.
Figure that Baldwin, Williams and Moore will get further auditions this Sunday in the hope that one or more can elevate his game and hold down a starting job until Manningham and Crabtree return.
Also, the 49ers could introduce former Seattle wide receiver/tight end Chris Harper into the mix (he was signed early in the season), or promote wideout Chuck Jacobs – who had a very good preseason -- from the practice squad.
There’s been some speculation among fans that the 49ers might be interested in going after a couple of proven NFL wideouts who might be available via trade, such as the Titans’ Kenny Britt or Browns’ Josh Gordon. But both players have had off-the-field issues, and as Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, “There’s good reason why some of these teams want to deal their receivers.”
So, Barrows wrote, expect the 49ers to stay with the wideouts they have.
And for now, expect Baldwin to get plenty of snaps vs. the Texans. Harbaugh so far has liked what he’s seen of Baldwin’s “competitive heart.” Harbaugh said he could tell Baldwin has that something special just by watching him get ready to play against the Rams last Thursday night.
“I wouldn’t call it being amped up, but I don’t know how to explain it,” Harbaugh told reporters. “It’s just something that you see. I guess a bird watcher knows the gist of a bird just by watching it fly.”