Chad Hall and Marlon Moore have played well since July 25's start of camp, providing stability during practice for an otherwise unstable group. With former first-round selection A.J. Jenkins’ inconsistencies on the field while dealing with a hamstring issue - combined with the absence of Michael Crabtree (Achilles tear), Mario Manningham (ACL surgery) and Kyle Williams (hamstring), there’s been a vacuum at receiver.
“This whole business is about opportunity. There’s very few,” Hall said. “Sometimes you only get one. Second chances don’t come around that often. When you’re put in a spot to make plays, you have to make them.”
Hall would know. His lone chance with San Francisco in 2012 didn’t come until a pivotal third down in the third quarter of the NFC Championship game. He was split right, Colin Kaepernick looked his way and the pass hit the turf. David Akers followed up the failed conversion with a missed field goal and it almost cost San Francisco a trip to the Super Bowl. They were trailing 24-21 before coming back to win late in the fourth quarter.
Hall, who graduated as a second lieutenant from the Air Force Academy, was signed to the team’s practice squad late in November after Manningham sustained his season-ending knee injury in Seattle. He spent the previous two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles bouncing between the practice squad and the active roster.
At 5’8”, 187 pounds, Hall’s been a favorite of Kaepernick during this summer because of his ability to get open in small spaces while running option routes. He’s done similar things that slot receivers around the NFL have done in recent seasons, which is a luxury the 49ers have not had in the passing game in the last two years.
“When third down comes a lot of defenses are starting to double the slot guy,” Hall said. They’re (running combination routes with) him in and out, it’s because that’s where the third down’s coming from and they’re leaving one-on-one on the outside.
“It came at a good time for me and master it.”
In 2012, San Francisco converted just 36.6 percent of third-down conversions good for 22nd in the league. The 49ers weren’t much better in the red zone, finishing 14th converting just 54.7 percent of their tries. And with Williams’ also suffering a season-ending knee injury in the regular season, San Francisco didn’t have an option in the slot that could create mismatches on third down.
“He’s easy to throw to. Most of the time he’s open and it’s by quite a bit. So, as a quarterback that’s something you love,” Kaepernick said of Hall.
For most of training camp, the first team offense has lined up with either Hall or Moore opposite Anquan Boldin, who transitioned seamlessly to his Super Bowl opponent since thrashing the 49ers with six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown to earn his first ring.
Boldin has picked up right where he left off in February and is quietly having an outstanding camp despite the injuries around him. With Crabtree gone for the foreseeable future, having a 10-year veteran around in Boldin has been imperative for the young group.
“There’s no need to pick his brain because he’s going to speak his mind when it comes to football. He has a great football IQ. And when talks we listen,” Moore said. “So when you see a future Hall of Famer in the room, you just sit back and listen and absorb as much information as possible.”
“Every day it’s always questions. ‘What are you seeing here? What could I have done different if anything?’ So the entire group is pretty eager,” Boldin said.
With Baltimore the last two seasons, Boldin had speedster Torrey Smith playing on the other side of the formation. Given Boldin’s ability to work in traffic, a fast receiver to occupy a deep safety can create a lot of space for him to work. The 49ers might not have a guy like Smith in that regard, but there are players in camp that are working to become that type of complementary threat.
Moore reportedly ran a 4.49 40-yard dash coming out of Fresno State, making him a candidate to be a player San Francisco sends deep. Hall is equipped for the slot. But through the first week and a half in training camp, Moore has seen passes in traffic, which might not be ideal for his 190-pound frame.
“It’s been something that I had to learn,” Moore said. “My main thing is to just focus on the ball knowing you’re going to get hit regardless of what happens, whether it’s a big hit or just a little tackle. Our job is to catch the ball.”
The coaching staff has taken notice.
“He’s a pretty diverse guy with a diverse skill-set. He can do a lot of things well. He’s definitely a guy that’s jumped off the screen at us so far,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
Moore, a Sacramento, Calif. native, went to Natomas High before heading down Highway 99 to Fresno State. He played four years with the Bulldogs, making 90 catches for 1,374 yards total. His sophomore campaign was his best, when he led the team with 48 receptions, 694 yards and five scores. He went to get sign the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent and saw time in 29 games over three seasons, averaging over 20.3 yards on 12 receptions.
At 26, Moore his hoping his best seasons are still ahead of him, but the recent acquisitions of Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins have made making the team that much more difficult. And since the 49ers acquired those two veterans, pushing the number of receivers in camp to 11, reps have been hard to come by.
“He’s made plays. He’s had some eye-catching, eye-popping type of plays,” Jim Harbaugh said of Moore. “He’s been consistently good.”
With 11 receivers in camp and limited reps to go around, consistency is key, and both Hall and Moore have been the most consistent wideouts in camp.
The preseason kicks off Thursday, offering their first chance to prove they can be productive in the offense away from the practice field. Then they will have to demonstrate they can be consistent enough to earn roster spots in time for September 8’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers.