SANTA CLARA – While the 49ers’ best receiver since Terrell Owens was in Haiti on a mission trip, a group of largely unknowns were back on the team’s practice field.
Anquan Boldin, the 49ers’ top wideout the past three seasons since coming from the Baltimore Ravens in a trade, remains unsigned.
And the 49ers appear to be uninterested – at this point, anyway. Coach Chip Kelly said he has not had any interaction with Boldin since the first week of February.
“I attended the (Walter Payton NFL) Man of the Year luncheon at the Super Bowl and talked to Anquan at that and obviously just about what he did and the impact that he’s had in the community, which was just kind of an eye-opening experience when you look at the impact that he’s had,” Kelly said. “But I haven’t had any conversations with him since then.”
Boldin, 35, a 13-year NFL veteran, was recognized as being the best person in the league off the field. And while he has slowed down through the years, Boldin has still been plenty effective on the field.
But the 49ers seem intent on seeing what they have with their group that consists of Torrey Smith and a supporting cast of unproven and unknown young wide receivers.
“I like their energy,” Kelly said. “I think there’s a group that brings a lot of juice every single day we are out there. There’s a lot of athleticism out there and will continue to gain experience as we get moving forward with them. They’ve been great so far.”
Smith was second on the team in receiving a year ago with 33 catches for 663 yards and four touchdowns – statistics that were disappointing for everyone, considering the 49ers signed him to a five-year, $40 million contract as a free agent.
Quinton Patton, who spent most of the season as the No. 3 receiver, collected a career-best 30 catches for 394 yards and one touchdown in his third NFL season. In 10 games over his first two seasons, Patton caught six passes for 78 yards.
“I think all those guys are doing a great job, and they’re looking at it as an opportunity for them to go prove themselves – Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, you got the young guys coming up,” 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “All those guys are doing a tremendous job, as well as Torrey, our tight ends, our running backs. They’re all going to catch a lot of footballs. I think that’s provided a spark to those guys in the offseason to just run the route and the ball will find you.”
Ellington caught 13 passes for 153 yards, while veteran Jerome Simpson added just five receptions for 54 yards. The 49ers waited until the sixth round to address the position in the draft, selecting Michigan State's Aaron Burbridge with the 213th overall pick.
The two most-intriguing newcomers to the receiver group are DeAndre Smelter and Eric Rogers.
The 49ers selected Smelter in the fourth round of last year’s draft. He sat out his rookie season as he focused on his rehab from a torn ACL sustained in November of 2014 in his final game at Georgia Tech.
Smelter has been practicing with no restrictions this offseason. Because of the wide-open nature of the position, Smelter finds himself in a legitimate competition to make an impact during the regular season.
“I think that’s everybody’s goal, be able to go out and compete, get a lot of playing time,” Smelter said. “We got a competitive bunch. Everybody’s competing. That’s the fun part.”
Rogers, 25, is the most physically imposing of the 49ers wide receivers. He took the long way to a spot on the 49ers’ 90-man roster – from Division III Cal Lutheran, to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys, to the Arena Football League, to the Canadian Football League.
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Rogers excelled in his only full season in the CFL, piling up 87 receptions for 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns in 17 games last season with the Calgary Stampeders.
“(We have) a lot of different body type, a lot of different skillsets,” Rogers said. “We got a lot of talent in the room. We all bring different pros and cons to the game.“
Rogers gave a glimpse of his ability on the practice field Tuesday, when he used his reach to make a nice catch of a Thad Lewis pass along the sideline against tight coverage against cornerback Kenneth Acker.
“I’m a big, long, lengthy guy,” Rogers said. “I have long legs and long arms, and I try to go up and get the ball at the highest point and use my body to (box) out the defenders. I try to catch with my hands as much as possible and I definitely bring that different skillset to the receiver corps.”
Kelly said Tuesday that the real competition for positions and roster spots will take place once the 49ers reconvene in late-July and the preseason begins.
“I think you have to wait until training camp,” Kelly said. “There’s a difference for everybody when you put the pads on. It’s a real teaching, learning aspect, technique aspect of what goes on here in the offseason program. There’s not contact at all, so it’s just seeing skillsets, technique, the finer points of the game.
“But it becomes a different game when you get to training camp and the pads come on and then you get to the preseason games and you really get to make an evaluation of what guys are like in contact.”