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NFL Training Camp Bubble Watch: Wide Receivers

Although veterans will not be reporting for a few more days, we're officially into the first week of 49ers training camp with rookies in town and working out with the coaching staff. There will be some media availability the next few days, with Jim Harbaugh making his first official comments to the media this Friday.

We'll continue moving forward with our training camp bubble watch posts, potentially posting a couple each day to get through these by the end of the week. We hit up quarterbacks and running backs last week, and we move on to wide receivers this morning. The 49ers took significant steps to upgrade the wide receiver position for 2012. They signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in free agency, and then selected A.J. Jenkins with their first pick in this past April's draft.

This contingent of players adds to an already lengthy roster of wide receivers. The 49ers were generally able to stay healthy in 2011, but when it came to the wide receiver position, injuries decimated them. Michael Crabtree was dealing with foot issues to start the season. When Crabtree was getting back to 100%, Braylon Edwards messed up his knee, bounced in and out of the active lineup and was eventually released. We also saw Joshua Morgan break his ankle, which might have been the most significant injury of the regular season. Ted Ginn Jr. was not exactly a prominent receiver, but his knee injury against the Saints had its own dramatic impact.

Given all the injuries and questionable talent down the roster, it was not surprising the 49ers added several wide receivers. The question now will be how many receivers are actually on the roster when the regular season starts. I don't have a poll attached at this point because there are so many moving parts at wide receiver that the number of poll options is too extensive. I'm open to poll suggestions.

When I put together the initial bubble watch post, I listed Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins as locks, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn Jr. as strong bubble, Chris Owusu and Nathan Palmer as weak bubble and Joe Hastings, John Matthews, Kyle Nelson, Brian Tyms, Brett Swain as long-shots.

Early in the offseason there were some question marks raised about Randy Moss. He has a manageable deal that allows the 49ers to get out of it fairly easily. While it is possible he could be released before the season starts, I also think any concern about how he'll perform are issues that seem more concerning later in the season.

I actually think Owusu and Palmer are two guys who will be fun to watch in training camp. They face a tough numbers crunch because of the sheer volume of receivers ahead of them. Barring dramatic performances over the coming month, Owusu and Palmer would seem to be battling for spots on the practice squad.

Kyle Williams is of course coming off what was a brutal close to the season in the NFC Championship Game. While I remain skittish about seeing him running back kicks or punts, he showed some signs of progress at the wide receiver position. Furthermore, all reports are that he is busting his butt this offseason and using the fumbles and ensuing firestorm of criticism as motivation. It remains to be seen whether this will be a difference-maker for him, but it is something to keep in mind heading into camp.

The back end of the wide receiver position is a tough one to figure out given the special teams implications. Ted Ginn was re-signed, but it remains to be seen how much is expected of him as a receiver. I remain convinced that barring injury, Ginn makes the roster. The team has given Kyle Williams and other players plenty of return work during OTAs because Ginn was resting his knee. If Ginn is 100% when veterans report (or even "early" in training camp), given what went down in the NFC championship game, does the team really try and get cute at the return position and not bring him back?

This strikes me as the biggest question at wide receiver given the implications on the return game. It's possible I'm over-thinking it, but I really don't think Ginn's value on special teams is that important.

Lock: Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins
Strong Bubble: Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr.
Weak Bubble: Chris Owusu, Nathan Palmer
Long Shots: Joe Hastings, John Matthews, Kyle Nelson, Brian Tyms, Brett Swain