Four months after botching a pair of punt returns in January’s NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants, Kyle Williams opened the 49ers’ first organized team practice for veterans on Tuesday in a battle for a roster spot.
San Francisco brought in significant competition at the position, signing free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and using their first-round pick last month on Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins in an effort to improve the league’s 29th-ranked passing game.
Williams said he isn’t running from the memory of how the 49ers’ 2011 season ended and is trying to learn from the experience.
“I haven’t really stopped ever since a week after that last game, I’ve been going,” Williams told local reporters after Tuesday’s practice, which was closed to the media. “It was a tough time, obviously — for me and for the whole team. But the way these guys had my back, they continue to have my back, the way they continue to have my back. That coupled with the work ethic has kind of been a good therapy for me.”
The sixth-round pick in 2010 is bringing a competitive mindset as he faces a stiff test to make the 2012 roster. He was third on the 49ers in receptions last season, but that was with just 20 catches for 241 yards as Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis combined for 139 receptions — hence the offseason moves to bolster the receiving corps.
Williams called the competition “intense,” but he’s looking forward to the challenge.
Backfield battle: The 49ers also added to their backfield with the free agent addition of bruising running back Brandon Jackson and rookie playmaker LaMichael James. They join Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Antonio Dixon, but Gore isn’t concerned about his role diminishing.
“I feel I can still do everything pretty good ... catch, run, block,” said Gore, who is entering his eighth season. “I’m going to do what I’ve always been doing.”
Gore led the 49ers with 1,211 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.3 yards per carry last season. However, his last 100-yard rushing game of the year came in Week 9, although he did average 5.6 yards in the team’s two playoff games.
Kilgore shows versatility: Second-year offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore, drafted as a guard, has been taking snaps at center as well, although starter Jonathan Goodwin returned for Tuesday’s practice.
“It definitely benefitted me being able to take the snaps with the ones,” Kilgore told the team’s website. “I know Goody’s a great player and a great teammate. I know he’s been working hard as well, probably as much, if not more than I have.”
— The Sports Xchange via Reuters
A look at receivers currently on the 49ers roster: