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May 2, 2013
Harbaugh tells rookie wideout to go home but loves his initiative


Showing up late for your first-ever NFL minicamp? Bad. Showing up a week and a half early? It's fantastic, according to Jim Harbaugh, albeit against the rules.

That's what 49ers rookie receiver Quinton Patton discovered after paying for a flight from Tennessee to San Francisco International Airport on Monday and then renting a car. Patton was halfway down Highway 101 on Monday when he called the 49ers to tell them he was minutes away from joining their offseason program.

That wasn't exactly welcome news. Draft picks have a 24-hour window to visit their new team, according to the new collective bargaining agreement, but are not allowed to visit beyond that. Patton was the 49ers' first pick in the fourth round on Saturday, and if he had arrived in Santa Clara he might have forfeited his chance to take part in the team's rookie minicamp that begins next Friday.

"He calls us two days ago and he said he's here," Harbaugh said on KNBR radio Wednesday. "He's on his way. He'd just landed at the airport. He's in his rental car. He's coming over to the facility, and he can't wait to get started. And we had to go, 'Where? Which airport did you fly into? You're in a rental car driving here?' 'Yeah, coach, I'm 20 minutes away.'"

The instructions from the 49ers: Turn around immediately and go back home.

Harbaugh, however, said he loved the early-bird attitude from a wideout who had more than 1,200 receiving yards at Louisiana Tech the last two seasons.

"The fact that he would buy his own ticket and fly out here, to me, just speaks volumes about him. I mean, to be honest you, he reminds me of me," he said. "That's something I would've done. I love it. I can't wait. It's probably the best money he's ever spent even though he had to fly out here and fly back home."

Patton isn't the first rookie wideout who eagerly flew to the Bay Area after the draft. Two years ago, quarterback Alex Smith spotted Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, the money for a plane ticket from Michigan so that Johnson could take part in the lockout workouts Smith had organized. Rental car? The then-49ers quarterback also allowed Johnson to ride around in his wife's white Mercedes.

Johnson was one of the few players from that draft class who didn't work out for the 49ers. He was cut and picked up by the Eagles. During last year's training camp, Johnson suffered a broken and dislocated ankle in practice and was waived. He is currently a free agent.

Patton, meanwhile, will compete for playing time on a team that is full of wide receivers but one in which only two, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, are sure to see playing time this season. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are returning from ACL injuries while A.J. Jenkins' rookie year was a dud. Ricardo Lockette, a practice-squad player last year, also will be in the mix.

Because he never made it as far as the team facility, Patton will be back next week for the 49ers' rookie minicamp, this time on the team's dime.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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