Notre Dame has a knack for football talent wouldn’t you say? And what better to find that out yet again then drafting a player from there in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL draft? In this draft the San Francisco 49ers sat at the war room table with many apparent needs on it’s plate. One of them being the wide receiver position due to the off-season realities that Terrell Owens still stands in at being an unrestricted free agent after the 2003 season, and Tai Streets has made known that he intends in pursuing his options at the end of the season as well.

Knowing this the 49ers set out on a course that would alleviate some of the pressure being applied upon them from these individuals by drafting Illinois wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, Florida’s Aaron Walker and finally Notre Dame’s Arnaz Battle. All three will make a splash through both mini-camps and training camp as we proceed ahead towards the pre-season schedule.

But Battle was an interesting pick basically because he has not been a wide receiver for all that long. In fact he was a quarterback for Notre Dame that was converted to a wide receiver late in his collegiate career. He moved to the wide receiver position in his junior year there because the Irish had enough depth at the quarterback position and had nagging injuries that had decimated their receiving corps.

He began his career as a flanker every game in his senior year, and led the team with 48 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns. He has already made a mark with the 49er coaching staff by impressing them in the mini-camps that have already taken place in Santa Clara, California. Of course taking a receiver that has just one year playing experience is always a risk, but the 49ers see the risk as being a calculated one at that because he is already showing signs of meeting the learning curve out on the field.

“I think it’s going well,” Battle said. “I’m still learning the position.” “It’s a great opportunity for me,” he said.

Arnaz Battle is trying to position himself for a shot at being the fourth of fifth wide receiver on the final 49er roster. A spot he’ll make if he can excel at being a great special team’s player and might show promise at returning kickoffs as well. With J.J. Stokes being waived just this past week it creates more opportunity for all the wide receivers to jockey for a position on this roster unless the 49ers decide a free agent veteran is worth bringing in.

The immediate lineup rounds out with Terrell Owens and Tai Streets being the starting duo and Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd fighting for a spot at third and fourth, which leaves Battle trying to pick up the pieces that are left over by fighting off un-drafted free agents. Having the experience as an option quarterback really defines his athleticism more so than others, because he is able to use that experience to make some very peculiar special play options that the 49ers may be interested in for the up and coming season.

Surprises and trick plays will be an option that 49er head coach Dennis Erickson may want to formulate in order to catch the opponent off guard in crucial situations or to just energize the team in calling special options that may generate points. As you know many teams in the NFL apply trick plays to forward their offenses and to make critical third and fourth down conversions, this would be a 49er priority as well with an advantage in having Arnaz Battle.

He can provide that special option pass much the same way we saw Terrell Owens used on occasion last year in making a fake adjustment and getting the ball and suddenly throwing it down the field to convert a first down or even score a possible touchdown. This type of play is so thrilling and electrifying and really makes fans realize the stopgaps that the team is willing to throw out just to obtain points and move the team forward in a positive manner.

Not all-trick plays go as planned though and are always a real risk, but if you weigh the odds and the odds appear to be in you favor. Based upon a proven player that has special options such as Battle, taking the risk is always worth it especially at least to just trying it.

Battle has some risk involved with him there is no question to that as he sat out most of the 2000 season with a broken wrist and then missed the bulk of the 2001 season with a fractured right fibula. However his senior season was so explosive and so dynamic it made not drafting him a much worse scenario for the 49ers. Battle was also famous for taking off with the ball much like Chicago’s Kordell Stewart and Atlanta’s Michael Vick. He carried the ball for 314 yards and a score on 62 carries averaging 5.1 yards a carry.

Now I’m not saying he’ll be like a Stewart or a Michael Vick, but even if you can get one half of their similar potential in Arnaz Battle the drafting of this athlete will certainly be worth it. Battle knows what is expected of him and he knows that he must develop more quickly than the others based upon their experience at the position.

During his time as a quarterback for the Fighting Irish, Battle completed 30-of-69 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns. General Manager Terry Donahue knows that Battle is a risk that he felt though was worth taking. “There’s always a chance he’s not going to be able to come along as fast as you want,” he said. But Donahue feels at ease when discussing Battle and by the way he’s playing hard at mini-camps he is right on track where he is supposed to be.

The skinny on Notre Dame’s Arnaz Battle at 6-0 and 217 pounds

Arnaz Battle is a slash type wide receiver having had experience as a quarterback in the Notre Dame football program. He has quickness and some speed having registered a 4.75 in the 40-yard dash and he ahs been compared to wide receiver David Givens on the New England Patriots. I expect interesting things to take hold should Battle make the final cuts in August after training camp and the start of the pre-season period.

Strengths: He is a natural athlete that is built similar to a running back. He is a strong and powerful runner that has good speed and some good initial burst. He is very elusive in the open field and has some acceleration. He has improved upon his pass-catching skills and has helped decrease doubts about his hands as well. He has the ability to catch away from his body and while on the run as well.

He poises a threat on reverses and can accurately throw the ball when asked to. This is where I find this athlete to be the most compelling because it allows us to be more creative in our offensive game planning, I hope that Dennis Erickson and Greg Knapp use him in mysterious ways.

Weaknesses: His two major injuries leave you wondering about his durability without question. Having a broken wrist and fibula lend doubts to critics about his conditioning and ability to stay away from harms way. He is still unpolished as an established route runner and needs to learn to drop his hips as he is coming in and out of his breaks. He lacks the ideal receiver build and agility and isn’t much of a vertical playmaker.

He excels better after the short catch while he is working down the field. He has to get into his patterns more quickly and learn how to set-up his defenders in man-to-man coverage.

Bottom line: Battle is a converted quarterback that will require some additional training and fine-tuning. He did have a great senior season and was impressive at the Senior Bowl, which helped elevate his stock in this draft. His lack of experience, raw technique and durability are noted concerns but his athleticism and versatility are upsides that the 49eres see as very significant.

So there you have it folks the line on Arnaz Battle is that he is a risk in progress in my opinion. I can see him as being a great special team’s standout and possibly a very good kick return specialist to be used in conjunction with Jimmy Williams. I also can see Battle being used in some special trick plays in games that will use his past experience at quarterback to our distinct advantage.

However you look at it should Battle be able to round out the uncertainties about him and chop away at the weaknesses listed he’ll be a 49er that will be a difference maker we’ll be all too happy to sing praises about.

Meanwhile the light of focus of light the past few days has been centered right above Terrell Owens and his mysterious absence from mini-camps that are a voluntary basis type of training for the players. However it has left a bad taste in many a mouth as many believe Terrell to be avoiding mini-camps out of protest to his contract ending at the end of the year, with no progress being made to extend that contract.

A lot of athletes have been known in seasons past to do this type of thing to get a franchise’s attention that they want a contract extension wrapped up soon or else. If this is what Terrell Owens is trying to say to us I say please listen carefully. We all know what Terrell stands for in this organization and that is success. Our very success hinges upon this playmaker of an individual, and if we dare jeopardize that I say shame on us then. Some feel that Owens is returning to his old selfish and egotistical ways again, but I am leaving the jury out on that one as I know that Owens wants to get a deal done before training camp begins.

And who wouldn’t want to? Still some say that in order to be a leader of the team you must demonstrate good faith and show up at every practice regardless if it’s mandatory or voluntary. I must say I agree with this philosophy and honestly wish that Owens would adhere to this doctrine, but as we all know Owens is a man of his own accord.

I will say that he has made tremendous progress in maturity and development mentally since the Mariucci debacle over a year ago, and that he made known during the season and during the post-season that he would do everything in his power to forward and lead this team. He did do that and did it well, many on the team will testify to that as he was constantly drawing the pressure of the game to be focused upon him and many times he delivered the final blow in achieving victory.

This cannot and should not be debated folks. He is Terrell Owens and he deserves the money he is seeking if not for the very sole reason that there is no one out there that is better at what they do than this guy. Owens makes plays bottom line and he scores often bottom line. Fooling around with this success is hazardous to San Francisco’s health bottom line.

He is not Jerry Rice nor does he try and pretend to be, although he still respects Jerry Rice and carries his torch as he left the 49ers still, Owens is his own person and has his own agenda in life. He has alternatives that he needs to take his mind off from things such as basketball and now a new course in acting by playing a part in a movie that features him as a football player. For this he was excused from at least one mini-camp but the others remain a mystery such as sorts. Owens went to New Orleans to start filming in the movie “Playmaker.” He plays a football player called Omar in a movie that includes other NFL stars in Ray Lewis and Jason Taylor.

Dennis Erickson more than anyone wants to formulate offensive game plans that use Terrell Owens to his full potential as an offensive playmaker. He is determined to feed the ball to Owens more so than his counterpart ever thought of doing and that has fans very excited about seeing a wide open passing attack like you’ve never seen before. But at the same time Erickson assures that the 49ers will continue to be a running team that uses the run play action to set up the passing attack.

“You have to take advantage of the fact that we should be a good running team,” Erickson said. “If you can get the defense to play the running game on play-action, you’re obviously going to get one-on-one coverage on the outside. You have a chance to get the football up field.”

Of the unrestricted free agents after this year Terrell Owens stands out above the likes of linebacker Julian Peterson, cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster, and wide receiver Tai Streets. As you can see the 49ers have a lot to use and how will they prioritize on whom stays and who goes? All of these athletes have made enormous contributions to this franchise even letting one escape is really unthinkable but unavoidable.

General Manager Terry Donahue in early May reiterated that they are very interested in working on a contract extension for Terrell Owens but also indicated that it was nothing just to rush into. However it seems his absence from mini-camps voluntary or not has pushed weight upon that timetable that Donahue considers plenty of time.

“I’ve had conversations with (Owens) agent and he’s going to come out in June,” Donahue said. “We’re going to talk about some general thoughts, where they’re at and he’ll get an opportunity to talk to (owner) John York and let the process begin. I don’t expect any kind of timely resolution.”

Working out other extensions with other free agents after the season seems to have taken a back seat obviously to Terrell Owens. The pressure will be on to get a deal done as to not infuriate the emotions of Owens, as his wishes are to get a deal done before the season. The reality is also that many of these free agents will be seeking more money as they have established their credentials in the NFL already and will have their agents ready to cash in.

Loyalty to staying on, as a 49er will be mediocre at best when it comes to large sums of cash as is the general rule in the NFL. I would hate to see any of these great athletes go because I have such admiration and respect for every one of them.

“We know a lot of them are going to want to hit the open market,” Donahue said. “Maybe we can sign one of them or more. We’ll just have to see how it goes. We’re not anxious to get anything done or are we optimistic. That’s just the environment we’re working in.”

So as you can see by this statement Donahue is not overly optimistic that we can keep these free agents regardless of our inactivity in free agency this year. The real truth lies in that most of these free agents will move on with their lives somewhere else unfortunately and we’ll be forced to again draft accordingly. Owens remains the jewel in the Nile as so to speak and signing him to a lucrative contract should take priority over anything else. We all hope as fans that the seriousness of this matter is prevalent in the 49er front office as well. Owens agent David Joseph did make that trip to see Donahue and they sat down and discussed some things in general as was expected.

General Manager Terry Donahue characterized those talks as “upbeat and positive and optimistic.” But they never discussed a real salary figure. Owens is scheduled to make $4.2 million in 2003, and can void the final three years of his original deal after this season and become a free agent. Donahue made clear that future talks are still in the works and would conclude many more times as they both try and reach a mutual understanding.

Even though there seems to be no rush the spectrum is clearly on the San Francisco 49ers to get something done with Owens and soon. Lord knows it would be in their best interests to do so in a timely manner considering that Owens is the greatest offensive weapon in their arsenal.

“We have a contract with Terrell Owens and there is no urgency on our part to rush into anything,” Donahue said. “If we get something done long term that would be good. If we can’t, then he’ll play out his contract this year and we’ll see what the future brings. We won’t speculate and worry about it. We’ll keep going.”

Terrell Owens did attend the first mini-camp on May 2-4 but missed the second because he was in New Orleans filming the movie “Playmaker.” Since then he continues to miss mini-camps raising a red flag as to his true intentions and desires for the team. Owens has since chosen to stay at home in Atlanta and do his conditioning there.

The issue of his no showing at mini-camps has ruffled many feathers throughout the organization as well as it’s own fans. Many fans view Owens as being a leader on this team especially after the way he took charge in the come from behind win over the New York Giants in a playoff victory. I for one also view him in this way because I see Owens as fulfilling that role Jerry Rice once had as the premier playmaker on this team.

“He chose not to come. That’s his prerogative,” Erickson said. “I would have liked to have had him here, but that’s how it goes. That’s his choice. We have a lot of young receivers that can get some things done. We’re working on the guys that are here.” Donahue said: “Of course we prefer that he be here. That’s logical. But the camps are not mandatory and this is not critical. It really isn’t. He’s an All-Pro player who knows what he’s doing.”

Terrell Owens is still recovering over a groin injury from the season and is taking each and every day like a measured one. Owens has participated in many other things of importance this off-season such as his testimony before the United States Senate on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association. He did this to get more funding for Alzheimer’s research and to stress what it’s like to have a family member such as his beloved grandmother in Alice Black that has Alzheimer’s disease.

Terrell Owens carries a great love for his grandmother so much that he would be willing to go to the ends of the earth for her. By going before the federal government and giving testimony on this dreaded disease he felt he was making a difference. St. Louis head coach Mike Martz also joined him on the floor in testimony. The issue of this disease is real and the increase in funding is necessary to curtail the disease from increasing.

“My grandmother helped mold me into the person I am today,” Owens said. “Through the way she lived her life, my grandmother passed many special gifts to me. She was strict when necessary, but always caring and often playful. She taught me to work hard, to be proud of who I am and to never back down or take a back seat to anyone. Many of her so-called old-fashioned beliefs became the bedrock for my success; self discipline work ethic and focus. Moreover, because of my grandmother and mother’s steadfast convictions, I am never afraid to speak my mind about matters that are important to me. Finally, my grandmother’s indomitable spirit (she would often cite Scripture, sing hymns, and make sure that I attended church) created a similar spirit within me that gives me the strength to carry on as she continues to suffer.”

Terrell Owens has a heart as big as gold when it comes to family, there is no question about that and he is a willing giver at community functions as well. He has served as the celebrity chairperson for the Alzheimer’s Association Northern California &Northern Nevada Memory Walk in 2002 and he plans to do the same in 2003.

“One of the real tragedies of Alzheimer’s is the isolation it produces,” Owens testified. “The woman who helped raise me is barely aware of my accomplishments or my position in life. I am proud to be Alice Black’s grandson and I simply wish that she was able to celebrate what we have become, where we are going, all the while remembering where we have been.”

So is the heart of Terrell Owens and his drive for being a good person in good standing. We did not all look at him in this way when he was a controversial player with a voice two years ago on the playing field next to Steve Mariucci. His antics and press releases to the media scarred many a fan and sent shivers of discontent down the spine of the 49er organization.

But we all dealt with that and got past that, now he is a player that has embraced team unity and has become a voice in the darkest of hours in rallying the troops to make a last standing effort. For that and so much more you have to admire him for that if not at least tolerate and forgive what he has done in the past.

So when the Steve Mariucci era came to an end so did the past that was once was. Dennis Erickson had the peculiar coincidence of being on a plane after being hired as the new head coach of the 49ers with Terrell Owens. It was a situation that made Erickson truly reflective on what he was about to inherit an All-Pro player capable of busting a game wide open based upon his gifted attributes and willingness to succeed.

“I was coming to the press conference and he was in Portland doing a Nike shoot for something,” said Erickson. “So we sat next to each other on the plane for about 45 minutes. We sat right next to each other. He came right in and didn’t recognize me or see me. He was on the cell phone. He walks in sits down talking to someone. I tapped him on the shoulder and said “I’m your new coach.” I don’t believe I have ever seen anybody who’s as explosive in my coaching career at that position. He’s a dominant football player. I didn’t remember but when he walked on that airplane; that’s a big man, a big physical man. He’s huge.”

So the marriage was about to begin between Dennis Erickson and Terrell Owens, but will it have time enough to be long term? We certainly hope so, as I can’t imagine a 49er team without Terrell Owens. It is almost like a team without Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith, they give a team an identity that it has grown accustomed to and that relegates all other things secondary in nature.

Dennis can see so many possibilities when it comes to Terrell Owens; any coach would love to have him as a weapon. He makes waves no matter how you look at it and process it. He is just that darn good that he deserves instant praise. Not to say he doesn’t make mistakes because he does and he is readily available to comment on that in forms such as dropped passes. But Terrell is a showboat on the field a player that commands attention both in his actions and his words; he just loves to have fun while out on the field.

“He’s a good kid. The things he does, he celebrates on the field and does some things out there. He’s never done anything illegal or anything like that. He’s a kid like a lot of those guys who’s very, very emotional and very, very competitive. I don’t have a problem with that. As long as he scores he can sign whatever he wants. He can sign one for me,” said a laughing Erickson.

“He just has fun playing the game. It happens every place, guys want to make plays, and guys want the football. They should. I’d be upset if they didn’t. That’s how it is, great players want the football. The thing that impresses me about something like that (Sharpie incident) is that he head enough confidence that he was going to score a touchdown that he carried something with him. What he’s saying is that I’m going to score and I’m going to score at that end. What the hell, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Concentration and determination are two key elements to playing success and Owens has these down pact. Because he misses a few mini-camps is no need to worry, but I hope that he will comeback and play in familiar form alongside his teammates soon. It would be most beneficial between both players and himself.