This post is inspired by two things. First, we had some discussion in the End of Week link dump about Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle. In a bit of good timing, that fell on the day Arnaz Battle made it to OTAs, after missing last week without notifying the team. In a conference call with reporters, Battle made it seem like a simple personal matter. When asked if he was disgruntled over the "demotion" to the #3 receiver heading into camp, Battle said, "If you look at the history since I've been here, every year they brought someone in to take a role in this offense as a receiver. I don't look at it as any different than the past. I just want an opportunity to do what I do and play a role in this offense." Let's be honest, professional athletes have become amazing at spinning things the way they want, so maybe he's spinning, maybe he's telling the truth. Who knows. However, my favorite line in response to a question about how behind he was in missing a week of learning the offense, "They (other receivers) probably have a step...But I played quarterback. I feel l have the intelligence to come in and learn the position and get out there and make plays and make things happen."
So aside from that little drama, the real question is what to make of the upcoming training camp battle between Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle for the #2 receiver position. First off, I'm working under the assumption that Bruce will be in the starting lineup. Also, I'd expect a lot of 3-receiver sets this season, but we're just considering two starting receivers for arguments' sake. While Bryant Johnson is slotted into the starting lineup, a lot can change in the next two months and even into the regular season. Thus, the answers available in the poll below. For now, let's see what each receiver brings to the table.
Johnson has always been a huge potential guy with two camps: one side arguing he has never been able to put it all together and force the coach's hand and the other side arguing he's been stuck behind great receivers in Arizona and never got a fair shake. His career averages over five seasons are 42 receptions, 535 yards, 1.8 touchdowns and a career YPC of 12.7. All in all he's been a pretty average receiver if that. However, as is the case with many wide receivers, it's easy to get sucked in by the enormous talent. His scouting report points to all the exciting possibilities, as well as the inevitable causes of disappointment that seem to strike every high upside wide receiver:
Johnson is well-built, physical and fast. He has quality tools and a good feel for the game. He can find voids in coverage when a play breaks down. He knows how to use his size and strength to create separation...But Johnson's focus and consistency need to improve. He sometimes appeared frustrated with his role as Arizona's No. 3 receiver last season. His play seemed lackadaisical at times. He will peek at defenders around him in traffic and drop balls as a result...He doesn't play up to his timed speed. His effort as a route runner and downfield blocker could be better. He could be even more physical and a little tougher.
The "pro-Johnson" crowd (for lack of a better phrase) would argue that as this shows, his problems came from being held back as the #3 receiver. They would argue that as the #2 receiver in a Mike Martz-led San Francisco offense, Johnson would be able to make that step to the proverbial next level. He's only 27 years old and should thus be entering the prime of his career. The other side would argue that if he has concentration problems, what happens when the potentially dominant running game of the 49ers takes over and Johnson potentially becomes an after thought at times in the game? If he's not getting the ball enough would he become a TO-type distraction? Or if not a distraction would he just be ineffective?
There is no doubt Arnaz Battle is a fan-favorite. Well he's certainly a favorite of this fan. That favoritism will sneak into this section on Battle, so be prepared to take some of this with a grain of salt. Battle was a converted quarterback who has done whatever is necessary to become a quality receiver for the 49ers. In his last four seasons (his rookie season he had no catches and was primarily a special teams guy), Battle has averaged 37 receptions, 448 yards, 2.75 touchdowns and 12.0 yards per catch. These numbers are worse than Johnson, but Battle has also shown improvement, where Johnson has been pretty much the same each season. The scouting report on Battle points to the strengths and weaknesses we all know are there:
Battle is physical and fast. He has quality tools and a good feel for the game. He can find a void in coverage when a play breaks down. He knows how to use his speed and route-running ability to create separation...He freelances less than he once did, but his route-running polish and effort need more work. His play seems lackadaisical at times...He could be more physical and a little tougher. He needs to work harder as a downfield blocker.
One prime argument of the "anti-Battle" camp (again, for lack of a better phrase) is that he is not a high upside guy. While he has shown some skills since his move to wide receiver, he will never have the freakish natural abilities of Bryant Johnson. One could argue that considering the problems the 49ers offense has had in the past, starting Battle might be too safe a play, and going with Johnson is a roll of the dice that could pay off huge dividends.
One positive to all of this is the potential for a whole lot of 3-WR sets involving Bruce, Johnson AND Battle. One thing I do need to do is some more research on the Mike Martz offense and some more specifics on the wide receivers contributions. We all know about "The Greatest Show on Turf" and the offensive fireworks in St. Louis, but we definitely need more specifics.
For now, though, I'm curious what people think will happen at that second starting wide receiver position. The poll responses aren't completely clear, but basically what I'm wondering is who will be starting at the beginning of the season and who will be starting at the end of the season. This does not consider injuries, but rather if one guy happens to have a strong year and move past the other guy on the depth chart.