After being dogged by a calf injury the last few weeks, Ashley Lelie was finally back in full practice yesterday. The emergence of Josh Morgan, coupled with Lelie's injury has pushed Lelie to the cusp of being cut. Including yesterday's practice, Lelie has 4 practices and 1 game to show he can bring something to the table.
However, we've gone over Lelie's situation enough to know what's what. He's down to battling with Dominique Zeigler for consideration as a 6th receiver and that's that. Other injuries have raised additional questions that are more important than the 6th receiver.
The question for the 49ers is who will be starting where and who will be coming off the bench to start the season. The guys who entered training camp as the favorites to be the #2 and #3 receivers were Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle. I qualify Bruce as the #1 more out of seniority than anything and really it's just a hypothetical.
Anyways, Johnson and Battle have spent much of training camp dinged up. From earlier reports, Johnson was performing quite well in camp before going down with a hamstring injury during the combined practice with the Raiders. Battle on the other hand seems to be nicked up every offseason before coming in and producing as usual.
Josh Morgan has had ups and downs in training camp, but has shown serious talent. He's got size, speed and good chemistry with J.T. O'Sullivan. He didn't produce much against Chicago, but we know rookies will have good and bad moments. However, his performances to date have created a tough situation for Mike Nolan, which he has readily acknowledged.
Isaac Bruce appears locked in at the flanker (Z) position as the "featured receiver." Johnson is probably more talented at this point, but the Hall of Fame receiver with something left in the tank will get his crack as the #1. Personally, I think one of the other receivers will surpass Bruce as the go-to guy, but for now, Bruce is in that role.
The split end (X) position is the one creating headaches (but I think a good kind of headache). On the one hand, Bryant Johnson is the guy they brought in to be the man opposite Bruce. Johnson is supremely talented and wants a chance to prove that and net a big money contract. Unfortunately, he's been MIA the last few weeks as Josh Morgan has impressed the coaches. And, you certainly can't forget Arnaz Battle. He's been out of commission much of camp but if healthy I think we can safely assume another solid season. The final option that really hasn't been discussed is Jason Hill. He had a nice little game against the Bears but is still developing his skills. If he finished up with a big game against the Chargers it wouldn't mean a heck of a lot but it would give him an equal number of quality games as compared to Morgan (just a thought).
So, assuming everybody is relatively healthy at the start of the season (e.g. Bryant Johnson is playing although he might not be quite 100% come week 1), who is in the starting lineup at split end for the early part of the season? I'm not including Ashley Lelie because even if he does make the team he is in that specialized deep threat role and not the normal starting role in my opinion. If you disagree, let me know. A quick review of the candidates:
Bryant Johnson - Brought in to fill this very role and while he hasn't matched expectations he brings a ton of talent.
Josh Morgan - The rookie has shown incredible talent and had some of us thinking Marques Colston after two exhibition games. We'd clearly have to temper expectations but to quote Hubie Brown, there is some tremendous upside here.
Arnaz Battle - May not be the most talented receiver, but he's the most consistent and will bust his butt every play.
Jason Hill - Like Morgan we're thinking upside with him. If he were to end up as the #2 it would take some development over the course of this season.
After answering the poll, I'd be curious how you see the position shaking out completely. If you vote for one, feel free to mention in the comments where you think everybody else falls.