It didn’t take long for the Terrell Owens speculation to begin.
After Braylon Edwards was released by the 49ers earlier this week, Owens – the former Niner who’s sitting out this season – became a hot topic for fans who would love to see him catching passes from quarterback Alex Smith.
But don’t drag that Owens jersey out of the closet yet. It appears the 38-year-old ex-Niner. ex-Eagle, ex-Cowboy, ex-Bill and ex-Bengal was quickly x’d off the 49ers’ list of options.
Instead, the team plans to go with an “in-house” receiver from the practice squad for Sunday’s season finale against the Rams in St. Louis. And, depending on how that player does against the Rams, the 49ers could keep him active for the playoffs or go outside to find an available free agent.
Several reports indicate rookie Joe Hastings will be the receiver activated from the practice squad. The team doesn’t have to make the move until Saturday, and coach Jim Harbaugh Wednesday didn’t confirm Hastings is the choice.
However, the other candidate from the practice squad, John Matthews – who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego – told Eric Branch of the Chronicle Wednesday, “I think Joe’s the guy who’s the next man up.”
So who is Joe Hastings?
Hastings has been with the team since training camp but did not catch any passes in exhibition games. He’s a 6-foot, 185-pounder from Division II Washburn University, where last season as a senior he caught 87 passes for 1,546 yards and was named a third-team Little All-America player.
Smith told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that he’d be comfortable with Hastings on the roster. Smith has been throwing to Hastings in practice and in pregame warm-ups all season.
“I feel good about Joe,” Smith said. “He works extremely hard. … If that’s the direction they’re going, I feel good about it.”
If Hastings gets a chance Sunday to show what he can do, he could stick on the active roster through the playoffs. However, the 49ers – who could clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-week bye with a win over the Rams Sunday – could also bring in a veteran to have two weeks to get adjusted before the first playoff game.
Branch reported that in October, when the 49ers held a tryout for free agents after losing Joshua Morgan to a season-ending injury, San Francisco was impressed by several in a workout that included Chris Chambers, Brian Finneran and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (who since signed with the Raiders).
The Niners certainly could use some help at the wideout spot, no matter where it comes from. Michael Crabtree, Brett Swain, Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams are the only wide receivers on the roster, and Ginn (ankle) and Williams (concussion) did not practice Wednesday.
For his part, Owens indicated this week he’d love to return to the Niners. On Wednesday he tweeted to former Bills teammate Donte Whitner: “Let me kno if they need me, I’m ready homie! I’m ready 2 take em deep!!”
When asked about the 49ers interest in Owens, however, Harbaugh told Inman: “We don’t comment on specific players. We talk about 49ers.”