Tony Horne. Az-Zahir Hakim. Ricky Proehl. Kevin Curtis. Shaun McDonald. The names are bound to trigger unpleasant memories for long-suffering 49ers fans for they belong to former No. 3 receivers of the St. Louis Rams. And over the years No. 3 has been a No. 1 pain in the butt for 49ers defenses. Who will fill that role in San Francisco now that the architect of those Rams' offenses, Mike Martz, is with the 49ers? Perhaps a better question is whether the No. 3 wideout will be as prolific in Martz's San Francisco offense as it has been in his previous offenses.
Early indications are that it will not. Martz has a different philosophy than the one he had in St. Louis and Detroit. When he was hired this past winter, many fans were certain he would bring a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the 49ers' moribund offense. He has, but what's clear now after one minicamp and three weeks of OTAs is that he's not attempting to transform the 49ers into the 1999 Rams. To his credit, he looked at the 49ers' offensive roster and saw that its strength was, well, strength. Indeed, that was largely why he won the offensive coordinator's job - because he agreed with Mike Nolan that the 49ers would fare the best with a punch-you-in-the-face offense.
In St. Louis and Detroit, Martz had an abundance of big-name receivers, including Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. In San Francisco, his arsenal is more varied. For the first time, he has decent tight ends, and indeed, two of those tight ends - Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker - are excellent options in the passing game. To hear Martz talk, those tight ends will be on the field together quite a bit. He also expects to use Frank Gore and Michael Robinson together in the backfield from time to time. These alignments mean the 49ers have an equal chance to run or pass on a given play. In St. Louis, and even more so in Detroit, it was a safe bet that Martz's teams were going to throw the ball on any given play.
The draft also was telling. On his previous teams, Martz has gotten excellent production out of a smallish but quick third receiver. (See: Hakim, Curtis, McDonald, Mike Furrey, etc.) The 2008 draft class was teeming with similar-sized receivers and the 49ers didn't have one on their roster. In the end, San Francisco not only waited until the sixth round to draft a receiver, they took a 220 pounder. Josh Morgan fits the mold of the wideout the pound-it-out 49ers have preferred in the past - a big-bodied guy who is a handful for defensive backs and who can block downfield.
Which is why the choice for the No. 3 receiver is an easy one in the end - Arnaz Battle. He's reliable, experienced, has good hands and is an excellent downfield blocker. And if Battle is hurt, the 49ers have two other guys - Jason Hill and Morgan - with a similar skill set. The question is that if Davis, Walker, Robinson and Deshaun Foster end up catching a lot of passes in Martz's offenses, will there be a great need for a third and fourth wideout at all?
-- Matt Barrows