SANTA CLARA -– When Quinton Patton goes to watch practice film these days, all that he recognizes is the No. 11 jersey.
Patton, who enters his third season with the 49ers, believes he looks like a much different player than the wide receiver he watched during his first two NFL seasons.
“It’s a totally different person -- totally different animal,” Patton said Thursday.
Patton said he sees a player with more confidence and he can measure the growth from his first two NFL seasons. He said he is working even harder, he’s smarter and knows the game better.
All of that showed up on the field this week, as Patton stood out during a practice that was open to the media. Anquan Boldin is taking part in his own training regimen in Florida and Bruce Ellington, who surpassed Patton on the depth chart a year ago, is nursing a hamstring strain.
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Veteran safety Antoine Bethea said he believes Patton is ready to step up.
“I feel like last year he could’ve stepped in and made some plays for us,” Bethea said. “This year, he’s having the opportunity to go make a name for himself, fight for the position, and that’s what he’s going to do.”
Patton opened up practice by showing his deep speed to get beyond safeties Bethea and Eric Reid and haul in a deep pass from Colin Kaepernick that traveled some 45 yards in the air.
Patton, a fourth-round pick in 2013 from Louisiana Tech, played in six games as a rookie after sustaining a broken foot early in the season. He caught a total of five passes for 59 yards in nine games, including the playoffs. He finished the season as the 49ers’ No. 3 receiver.
But playing time proved even more difficult to earn last season when Ellington took over as the team’s return specialist and worked his way into the mix at receiver ahead of Patton.
Patton spent several weeks in Arizona this offseason working with Kaepernick to help build a rapport. The combination looked good Thursday on the practice field, as Patton lined up all over the field and Kaepernick repeatedly found him with completions during 11-on-11 drills.
“It benefitted me knowing we’re throwing the ball together and he’s telling me what he’s seeing and I’m telling him what I’m seeing, and just knowing where to be and when I need to be there,” Patton said.
With Boldin and Torrey Smith slated to step into the starting lineup, Patton, Ellington and Jerome Simpson are the leading candidates for the No. 3 job.
“I’m not going to say it’s my time, but I’m coming,” Patton said.