Jerry Rice, big breaks and the 49ers wide receivers

Jed Jacobsohn

Jerry Rice had to overcome rookie obstacles before he became the greatest wide receiver of all time. We look at that, and the 49ers current wide receiver situation.

Golf Channel has a reality series called Big Break, in which golfers get a chance to compete for 2014 PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour tournament exemptions, cash and other prizes. This season, entitled Big Break NFL, they are involving notable retired NFL players from six teams; the players will compete for money that will go to charities of their choice. Among the players participating is 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice.

Some of our sites (including NN) are doing promotion for this show, discussing how the given player got his big break. I thought we could also use this thread to discuss the 49ers current wide receiver position, but first, it's still interesting to look at Jerry Rice and his "big break" with the 49ers.

We look back at Rice now and see a Hall of Fame career, and a well earned G.O.A.T nickname. However, as some know, and many are unaware, Rice struggled quite a bit in his rookie season. Rice was a first round pick, but he slipped a bit due to concerns about a slow 40 time, and the level of competition he faced at Mississippi Valley State. He played faster than any 40 time would show, but scouts were naturally a bit hesitant.

The 49ers made their move for Rice, and scooped him up, but before we could get to "the rest as they say, is history", Rice had to overcome some early obstacles. I recommend reading Mike Tanier's 2006 piece titled "Jerry Rice, Rookie Bust", to get an idea of some of the issues. It provides a thorough breakdown of Rice's rookie season, from his solid start through three games, to his mid-season drops and slump. Fans and media demanded Freddie Solomon on the 49ers depth chart.

Bill Walsh maintained his support for Rice, and eventually Rice found his way. His breakthrough came in Week 14 when he hauled in ten receptions for a then record 241 receiving yards and a touchdown. And THEN, the rest as they say is history.

This year, the 49ers wide receiver position remains a question mark. Anquan Boldin is very solid, but when defenses have been able to take him out of the picture, no other receiver has been able to step up. The return of Vernon Davis helps soften up the defense, but if the 49ers want to return to a more consistent passing attack, they will need to find another weapon opposite Boldin.

For now, Jon Baldwin appears likely to get the next chance. Quinton Patton was starting to get more snaps on Thursday, but a foot fracture will sideline him for the near future. We had some discussion about the wide receiver position over the weekend, particularly in light of the rumors that Josh Gordon might be on the market. Add in the weekend rumors about Kenny Britt's future in Tennessee, and it has become a bit of a hot-button topic.

Matt Barrows put together a mailbag column over the weekend, and in it he mentioned that a 49ers official said the team would not rule out trading for anyone, but they were not actively looking at the moment. The 49ers seem content to see what their current batch of receivers can provide, and basically wait out the clock for Mario Manningham to come off the PUP list. Michael Crabtree is the other option further along, but for now, the timeline is all about Manningham.

Prior to Barrows mailbag, we really had not heard much of anything about Manningham's rehab progress. In his mailbag column, Barrows mentioned that Manningham's rehab remains on track for him to start practicing in two weeks when he is first eligible. The 49ers will have their window then to get him back on the active roster, and I'm sure they want to do that sooner rather than later.

For now though, we wait. It would be great if Baldwin stepped up over the next couple weeks, but more importantly for now is making sure Vernon Davis is back at or close to 100 percent when the 49ers host the Houston Texans this Sunday. A healthy VD opens things up for the rest of the passing attack, even when Davis is not catching balls. Nine days between games will be a big help for his hamstring.

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