Randy Moss looked every bit a team player as he demonstrated a cut and quick feet for his fellow wide receivers, who listened intently and observed while the veteran impressed in his first formal practice with the San Francisco 49ers.
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Clean cut with a short hairdo and sporting a red No. 84 jersey while running routes Thursday, Moss was one of the signature faces for the new-look Niners after spending a year out of football. Following a comeback season in 2011, this franchise made some high-profile offseason additions with players like Moss – determined to make another Super Bowl push.
The 35-year-old Moss even dazzled with a 55-yard touchdown catch from Alex Smith. No matter that there were no defenders in his way, the play drew cheers from right tackle Anthony Davis, who threw his arms into the air in celebration.
”It’s tough to tell that he missed a year of football. I certainly don’t see any rust,” Smith said. ”He’s running well, catching well. No surprise, he’s a pro and already has a good understanding of the playbook.”
After the hour-long, pad-free practice, Moss made a quick exit from team headquarters.
”Work is over, baby, we’re outta here,” Moss said as he drove away.
Moss has been working out in the mornings with position mate Michael Crabtree, safety Donte Whitner and running back Frank Gore, who didn’t participate in Thursday’s on-field practice. New receiver Mario Manningham also was absent, though Moss and Crabtree put on their own show seemingly trying to one-up each other with deep catches and some flash.
”He still looks the same. He never, ever since he’s been playing football has looked like he’s been running fast,” said Whitner, who used to match up twice a year with Moss while playing for Buffalo. ”But he’s a long-strider, and when you actually run against him he’s really running really fast. He’s running the same as he’s always run. His body looks like a younger Randy Moss, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do on the football field.”
Moss and Crabtree are having a blast, pushing each other, competing, talking a little trash. This could be Crabtree’s first full offseason participating in the scheduled routine considering injuries limited the 2009 No. 10 overall draft pick in recent years and he held out for 71 days as a rookie. And Moss is already setting a positive example by sprinting off the line on every snap and encouraging his teammates. He handed off his water bottle to a thirsty Joe Hastings at one point.
Crabtree had 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 as San Francisco went 13-3 and ended an eight-year drought without a playoff berth or winning record.
He and Moss could become a tough, tricky tandem to defend. They chatted during warm-ups Thursday and entertained each other on an unseasonably warm spring day in the Bay Area. The heat didn’t keep Moss from wearing black tights beneath his practice shorts.
Whitner has firsthand experience of what Moss can do. In six meetings, Moss went off for 35 catches for 509 yards and nine touchdowns, including a four-TD day in a 56-10 road victory for New England over Buffalo on Nov. 18, 2007.
”I know a lot of stuff defenses do against him, and a lot of stuff doesn’t work,” Whitner said.
Reigning NFL Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh got into the action Thursday, too, still wearing his standard uniform of khaki slacks with a black fleece sweatshirt. He didn’t get to lead any of the offseason workouts last spring as a first-year coach because of the lockout — and clearly had a little fun with his veterans during the optional session.
Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL quarterback in his day, stood in as a makeshift cornerback to swat away passes. He offered some instruction to quarterback Josh Johnson, who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego.
Everybody hopes Moss will deliver in Harbaugh’s system. Moss is getting another chance in the NFL after a year away, signing a one-year contract in mid-March to help fill a void for the reigning NFC West champions.
Moss last played for New England, Minnesota and Tennessee during a rocky 2010 season. But the 49ers are confident he can return to his former dynamic self.
San Francisco’s receivers managed just one catch for 3 yards in a 20-17 loss in the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants at Candlestick Park on Jan. 22.
Moss’ best season came for the Patriots in 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a single-season record 23 touchdowns in helping New England to a 16-0 regular-season record. He has 954 catches for 14,858 yards and 153 TDs in his 13-year career, which included a stint in the Bay Area with the Oakland Raiders in 2005 and `06 during which he produced little on the field.
”It was a little bit surreal at first,” 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick said of working alongside Moss. ”That’s someone I grew up watching. He’s a great guy in the locker room. He’s out there having fun and working hard.”
NOTES: Whitner said he has spoken with S Dashon Goldson, who told his teammate he would report early next week but Whitner didn’t know whether Goldson would sign his franchise tender. Messages to Goldson’s agent, Ben Dogra, weren’t immediately returned. … WR and return man Ted Ginn Jr. was on the field and in uniform but didn’t participate other than to shag balls during position-specific drills. … Rookie RB LaMichael James reported to minicamp but will return to Oregon to earn his degree, with plans to go through graduation June 15. … James was one of six draft picks to sign deals along with G Joe Looney, LB Darius Fleming, S Trenton Robinson, OL Jason Slowey, and LB Cameron Johnson. … Smith will throw a birthday party this weekend for his son, Hudson, who turns 1 on Friday. ”I made it,” the QB said. ”My wife and I need congratulations.”