I planned on writing about training camp battles, you know, closer to training camp, but since Arnaz Battle v. Dominique Zeigler appears to be a hot topic right now, why wait? The first thing that comes to mind is whether there will be any competition at all. Battle v. Zeigler assumes the 49ers will keep six receivers. (And I'm assuming the Top 5 are Josh Morgan, Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill and Brandon Jones). Last year, the 49ers entered the season with five wideouts on the 53-man roster, and that was in Mike Martz's receiver-heavy offense. This year's offense will be more run-oriented. Still, the team certainly has more talent at receiver than it's had in the past, so if any one position is going to be bottom-heavy, it makes sense that it be receiver.
Let's look at the tale of the tape of the opponents.
Size: 6-1, 208
Exp: six seasons
Best season: 59 catches in 2006
Know for: downfield blocking; third-down catches
Size: 6-3, 185
Exp: one season
Best season: 5 catches in 2008
Know for: elasticity; excellent hands
Battle certainly has the edge in experience and his gritty, blue-collar style of play seems to be just what Mike Singletary wants in his players. But experience comes with a price. Last year Battle played in only eight games before a foot injury knocked him out of commission. His 24 catches was his lowest output since 2004. The 49ers' late-season resurgence was done with Battle on the sideline and Zeigler getting a shot on the field. That has carried over into the offseason where Zeigler has received more practice snaps than any wide receiver outside of Josh Morgan. He's also earned the respect of hard-to-please position coach Jerry Sullivan. The other day at practice Sullivan used Zeigler as an example on how to run a particular route, something rarely heard out of Sullivan's mouth in conjunction with such a young receiver.
Zeigler also has the advantage in salary. Whereas Battle will make nearly $1.5 million in base salary alone this year, Zeigler is scheduled to earn $385,000. In the end, however, I think you have to look at the type of players they are and which one best fits the 49ers. Zeigler has looked great in non-contact practices, but what happens when they put on the pads and ask him to block Michael Lewis? Of all the 49ers top wideouts, he and Bruce are the only ones under 200 pounds. That's no mistake. The 49ers want big, stout guys who are effective as blockers, and that's Battle's forte. Zeigler has the silhouette of a toothpick, and it was notable that he suffered a concussion during a non-contact practice in May. He doesn't have a lot of cushion.
Ultimately, who wins the competition will come down to Battle. If he stays healthy - big if - and if he is back in 2006-2007 form, he'll be hard to cut. Remember, the fifth and sixth receivers will be expected to contribute on special teams, and that's something at which Battle has excelled in the past. (The 49ers don't want Nate Clements returning punts this year). Another plus for Battle is that the 49ers can keep Zeigler without putting him on the 53-man roster. Zeigler has another year of practice-squad eligibility. Battle does not.
The UFL began doling out players yesterday. Some names that might catch the eyes of 49ers fans: Linebacker Ezra Butler, who will play for Las Vegas. A year ago, GM Scot McCloughan said that Butler was the undrafted rookie he was most excited about ... that is, until Butler ran into trouble with the law in Reno and was cut. Others: New York has Ramiro Pruneda, a Monterey, Mexico product who spent time with the 49ers. Former UC Davis lineman Cory Lekkerkerker is on the San Francisco/Sacramento team ...
-- Matt Barrows