By now you've probably heard of the 49ers' curse. Oh you haven't? Well, it goes something like this: Long, long ago (in 2003), there was an evil wizard named T.O. who was banished from San Francisco. But before he left, he put a hex on his former kingdom that has lasted for five years. Think I'm yanking you? Consider the players who have worn T.O.'s No. 81 jersey since he left: Rashaun Woods, Antonio Bryant, Brandon Williams, Cam Colvin and Sean Ryan. Woods (first-round pick) and Williams (third round) were huge busts. Bryant's career in San Francisco effectively came to a close with a wild Lamborghini ride that ended with him in leather restraints in the back of a squad car. Colvin and Ryan had a cup of coffee with the 49ers and - poof! - were gone. (Good luck, Brandon Jones.) What's more, T.O. had 1,102 receiving yards in 2003. The 49ers haven't had a wideout even flirt with the 1,000-yard marker ever since.
Ah, but this year there are signs that the curse could be broken. The 49ers are arguably more talented at wideout than they've been since Jerry Rice and T.O. were in the same huddle. As I wrote earlier this week, it's perhaps the biggest difference between 2007's run-oriented offense and this year's run-oriented offense. The personnel on the outside gives defenses plenty to worry about. Here is the first half of the receiving corps - alphabetically - as the 49ers head into training camp.
- Arnaz Battle. 6-1, 208. If you're Battle, you have to be a little nervous heading into your seventh season. You know that the 49ers traditionally keep five receivers on the active roster, and suddenly you see more depth than the team has had in years. You were limited to nine games last season with a pesky foot injury, you had your lowest output since 2004 and you missed all of the spring drills rehabbing. And yet, Battle seems to be part tick - he's a hard to kill. He's outlasted several big-name wideouts in Owens, Woods, Brandon Lloyd, Bryant and Bryant Johnson. And he has a certain toughness that promises to endear him to Mike Singletary. Battle certainly will have to prove himself in training camp this season, and it may take an injury for him to seize a spot on the 53-man roster. But Battle's proven over time that you never should count him out.
- Mark Bradford. 6-2, 205. The 49ers liked Bradford, a Stanford product, enough to place him on their practice squad for the final seven weeks last season. Bradford's chances of making the team are slim. However, receivers get nicked in training camp more than any other position. Guys like Bradford, if they stay healthy, are valuable for practices. On the other hand, the 49ers will need to do some roster trimming when draft picks Glen Coffee and Michael Crabtree are added to the roster, and the receiver numbers are awfully high.
- Isaac Bruce. 6-0, 188. I have to be honest here. When the 49ers added Bruce last offseason, I didn't expect a whole lot. After all, his numbers had been steadily dropping in St. Louis. He had been nicked in recent seasons and he didn't play as well on grass as he did on artificial surfaces. I was wrong. Bruce was the most consistently good player on the 49ers' offense last year, and his expertise and reliability not only helped out J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill immensely, more than any other player Bruce made Mike Martz's offense tick. The question this year is whether Bruce can be effective without Martz. He certainly didn't endear himself to the new offensive coordinator by missing all but a handful of the spring practices. And perhaps it was an ominous sign that Josh Morgan primarily was practicing at the position Bruce manned last season. Still, the 49ers are far better off with Bruce than without him. Yes, there is plenty of talent at wideout. But it is mostly young talent. Bruce's veteran savvy is valuable, and Singletary was wise to lure him - slowly, carefully - back onto the team when Bruce was waffling this spring.
- Dobson Collins. 6-2, 178. Collins went undrafted in April, but he put up big numbers - 76 catches, 937 yards, 10 TDs - last year at Gardner-Webb. Collins didn't see a lot of action in the spring. In fact, if you were to rank the wideouts heading into training camp, he might be at the bottom.
- Michael Crabtree. 6-1, 214. The buzz on Crabtree right now is that his agent wants Top 5 money for the No. 10 draft pick, a discrepancy that promises to cause him to miss the beginning of camp. I have yet to see or hear any attribution on that concept, so perhaps it's just a lot of speculation and Crabtree will be delivered on time. This may seem counterintuitive given the 49ers' receiving woes in recent seasons, but the truth is that the 49ers have the leverage on this one. They have two capable starters in Bruce and Morgan as well as a host of decent backups in Jason Hill, Jones and Battle. Crabtree, meanwhile, slipped in the draft and has yet to step onto the practice field following foot surgery. He was champing at the bit so hard to practice in June that Singletary had to forcefully tell the rookie to take it easy. Oh, and Crabtree already is battling the notion he's a diva. It's Crabtree who wants/needs to prove to the football world that he shouldn't have been passed over like he was, and he needs to be in camp to do so. Yes, the discrepancy between what the No. 5 and No. 10 drafts picks earn is wide, but Crabtree's real money will come on his second contract, which he is effectively working toward the minute he enters training camp.
-- Matt Barrows