In our nation’s capital, the talk is about quarterback Casey Bramlet, the MVP of the World Bowl this past weekend, and whether he has a shot at making a Redskins roster that is loaded at quarterback.
The folks in 49erland could be asking the same question about Marcus Maxwell, Bramlet’s top target. Maxwell was a monster in Europe, er, Europa this spring, finishing with 32 catches for 499 yards and a league-high seven touchdown receptions. In Hamburg’s World Bowl win, he had five catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Maxwell seems to be everything Mike Nolan and Scot McLoughan want in a receiver - he’s tall (6-4), strong (215 pounds) and a willing blocker. His problem, however, is the same as Bramlet’s. While those two guys were making spectacular plays together in Germany this spring, the players they will be competing against for roster spots were getting plenty of practice in front of the coaching staff.
The offense that new 49ers coordinator Jim Hostler is installing is not that different from the downfield-passing system Norv Turner ran last year. Then again, he also is throwing in a few wrinkles from the west-coast offense that Maxwell will have to learn when he arrives for training camp.
The question 49ers fans will be asking right up to cut-down day is which receivers will make the final squad. Last year, the team kept only five receivers on the active roster. Maxwell was a member of the practice squad.
The 49ers lost one member of that group, Antonio Bryant, in the offseason but added three others in Ashley Lelie, Darrell Jackson and third-round draft pick Jason Hill. Assuming those guys make squad, that leaves two slots. Arnaz Battle gets one as the team’s most consistent and dependable wideout and the only one who can genuinely say he has developed a rapport with Alex Smith (more on that in a later blog).
The battle for the last spot, then, would be a dogfight between Brandon Williams, Bryan Gilmore, Taylor Jacobs and Maxwell. Who would get cut?
Williams was a third-round pick last season and appears to have the edge in the punt-returner competition. He also has looked sharp as a receiver this spring and it’s very hard to imagine the 49ers not finding a place for him.
Gilmore, while not a fan favorite, is beloved by the coaching staff, especially receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, because he is a blue-collar worker with sprinter’s speed. Gilmore is valuable on special teams and also came through with several clutch catches late last season.
With Jackson and Lelie injured, Jacobs saw a lot of action this spring. He might be a better pass catcher than Williams or Gilmore, but he has been injury-prone in past seasons. It also should be noted that Jacobs beat out Maxwell for a roster spot last year.
Injuries, of course, will play a role in the final roster decisions. And the 49ers could end up keeping six, not five, receivers in 2007. But that would only force the team to make tough decisions at other positions, such as linebacker and offensive line.
The bottom line is that while Maxwell may have been an all star in Europe, he will have a Sea Devil of a time (sorry, couldn’t resist) making the final roster stateside.