Michael Crabtree won’t be at the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp that opens Tuesday. Also absent from the field will be the recovering Mario Manningham. Randy Moss and Delanie Walker, both of whom are no longer with the team, also are history.
So when Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws the ball around the team’s practice field this week, he’ll be without four of his top receivers from the 2012 season.
But the absence of the injured Crabtree and his mates from last season opens the door of opportunity for others. And this week, Niners observers may start to get a better feel for which of the receivers on the roster is developing a rapport and trust with Kaepernick that could carry over into the start of training camp, through the exhibition season and into Game 1 of the 2013 season against the Green Bay Packers.
Minicamp practices will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and will be open to the media.
On one side, Kaepernick will have veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, picked up from the Ravens via trade. Boldin is a known quantity who already has fared well in practices and played as if he’s been with the team for a long time. As long as he’s healthy, Boldin should be productive.
The other set of receivers is the one that will be most interesting to watch.
Last year’s No. 1 pick A.J. Jenkins, this year’s fourth-round pick Quinton Patton and former Seahawk Ricardo Lockette are three of those fighting to emerge as a starter.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh says he’s convinced one or two receivers will fight their way into the receiving mix and help pick up the slack left by Crabtree, who’s probably out for the entire season with an Achilles’ tendon tear.
“A real good chance for some young guys to emerge, get some reps and contribute,” Harbaugh said recently. “I very much anticipate that will happen.”
Jenkins has so far made a good impression this offseason with extra work with Kaepernick and in the weight room, where he’s bulked up without losing speed. But with the media being able to watch every practice this week, reporters will be able to see if that translates into good route-running, being able to separate from defensive backs and holding on to passes from Kaepernick, Colt McCoy and the rest of the San Francisco quarterbacks. Last season, those were all problems.
“It was very humbling,” Jenkins told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group of his lack of playing time last season. “From being top dog on campus to not playing at all, it teaches you a lot about the game and you try learning from the sidelines and other players. I need to make sure it doesn’t happen this year.”
Lockette and Patton also have looked solid, so Jenkins will continue to be pushed. If he falters, they’ll be there to take the job.
Lockette, a much bigger target at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, reportedly has developed a good bond with Kaepernick in offseason workouts.
Says Harbaugh of Lockette: “There’s something special there. I just feel it.”