Patrick Willis must have been having Super Bowl flashbacks Tuesday afternoon. There he was matched up against Anquan Boldin, and there was Boldin catching a whistling pass in heavy traffic up the middle of the field.
And Willis wasn't Boldin's only victim. With Michael Crabtree's Achilles injury still the No. 1 49ers-related topic, Boldin showed that it might not take long for him to pick up the offense and replace Crabtree as Colin Kaepernick's favorite target.
Boldin caught several passes from Kaepernick, including one during a two-minute drill at the end of practice. He also was the top target for the team's other three quarterbacks - Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien and rookie B.J. Daniels. In all, Boldin caught eight passes, one of them a touchdown snag between two defenders on a pass from Daniels.
"You got a good look at what he's been doing," Jim Harbaugh said. "He's picked up the system fast and making plays, big catches in tight areas."
Boldin said joining a new squad was a little like "being a rookie all over again." Still, Crabtree's injury means he is the only sure thing at receiver on the roster. Harbaugh said that Boldin will start at one position, the Z or "flanker" receiver, and a host of inexperienced players will compete at the other spot, the X or "split end."
Boldin said that was a smart approach because it already has sparked intense competition among a group that includes A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore, Chad Hall and rookie Quinton Patton. Jenkins and Hall were the wideouts along with Boldin during the two-minute drill. But all of the receivers were rotated through the lineup during Tuesday's session and no single receiver seemed to get the lion's share of the repetitions opposite Boldin.
Boldin spent time with Patton after practice.
"I see a bunch of guys that want to make their mark, that want to put their names out there," Boldin said of the young group of receivers. "Coach said it's an open competition on the other side, which I think is one of the better things he could have done. It really forces guys to come out and work hard every day."
With Joe Staley recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and Anthony Davis absent from the voluntary OTA, Kenny Wiggins lined up at left tackle and Adam Snyder at right tackle. Harbaugh said the 49ers consider Snyder to be a guard who can play tackle if need be.
Asked if the 49ers need to find a swing tackle this offseason, Harbaugh said, "Yeah, I think that's something that Adam brings the ability to that. But, you also have Alex Boone can play either tackle as well, very versatile player. So, it gives us some options."
The 49ers had a big group taking turns at punt returner. It included LaMichael James, Patton, Lockette, Hall, Daniels and Perrish Cox. After practice James said he was hoping to become the team's primary returner for both kicks and punts, something with which he struggled during the 2012 preseason. He said he's up to 205 pounds from 195 pounds last year in an effort to become more explosive.
It was just one practice, of course, but Moore stood out at times. He's got nice size and downfield speed. And the fact that he has value as a special teams gunner might improve his chances when coaches consider who should make the final roster.
-- Matt Barrows