When the 49ers open training camp this weekend, wide receivers promise to be a focus of media and fan attention.
San Francisco hopes to have a more explosive, deep-threat passing game in 2015, so the addition of former Baltimore Raven Torrey Smith – one of the best long-ball receivers in the NFL – could have a huge impact.
But the 49ers also are hoping other wideouts will bring some home-run capability, too, including veteran Jerome Simpson, formerly of the Vikings, and undrafted free-agent rookie DeAndrew White of Alabama.
Throughout spring workouts, Simpson and White provided highlight catches and big plays.
Simpson, who sat out the 2014 season, has elite speed and consistently was able to get separation on 49ers defensive backs in spring workouts.
“That’s Jerome,” said Niners co-wide receivers coach Ronald Curry in June, during the team’s minicamp. “We mess with him and tell him that he only has one speed, and that’s full speed. He can’t even jog slow.”
White, too, was impressive. Overshadowed by All-America teammate Amari Cooper at Alabama, White was one of the most exciting playmakers on the offense this spring. The 49ers believe he could make an impact as a receiver and kick returner. The 6-foot, 192-pounder also has the necessary speed to get deep.
In addition, White wants to prove to everyone that he was unjustly overlooked in the draft.
“He motivates himself,” co-wide receivers coach Adam Henry told a writer for the team website recently. “He has a little chip on his shoulder, and he brings it to the building each and every day.”
But with training camp now set to begin, both Simpson and White will be tested far more than they were in spring drills.
As noted in a preview to the opening of training camp on 49ers.com Wednesday, wide receivers now will have to go against defensive backs in full-contact drills and scrimmages, where it will be far more difficult to get separation. Pure speed won’t be enough. Guile, strength and smarts will come into play.
Simpson, of course, has shown that he can make catches in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 193-pounder, who’s 29, has played six seasons with the Bengals and Vikings and has 145 catches for 2,004 yards and eight TDs, with a 13.8-yard average per catch – but hasn’t played since 2013.
White, meanwhile, is a rookie who will have to learn to get free from more experienced cornerbacks. It will be a whole new experience.
Said Curry, of the impending tests for both: “We don’t crown anyone when we’re in shorts.”
If Simpson and White prove they're up to the task, the 49ers' receiving corps in 2015 could be a much more dangerous group than it was a year ago.