SANTA CLARA -- When 49ers' training camp opened two weeks ago, Kendrick Bourne was the team's most experienced wide receiver.
Travis Benjamin, an eight-year veteran, opted out for the season due to concerns over COVID-19.
The team’s surplus of young receivers has taken a hit, beginning with offseason injuries to Deebo Samuel (foot) and Richie James (wrist).
Jalen Hurd is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. The club waived/injured Chris Thompson.
But something has happened to the 49ers’ group of wide receivers with all the injuries: The team has gained more experience.
Within the first week of camp, the 49ers signed veteran receivers Tavon Austin, J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown to one-year contracts. Coach Kyle Shanahan required those extra receivers to handle all the running that must be done to provide work for the rest of the offense.
“We’re dealing with injuries right now, so they’re helping a bunch,” said Bourne, who enters his fourth NFL season. “And their vet presence helps me look at how I’m supposed to be each and every day.”
That depth might be required even more after Sunday, when impressive rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk pulled up on a deep route with an apparent left hamstring injury.
Austin, Brown and Nelson are in a fight for roster spots – or, even, jobs on the team’s 16-player practice squad.
Austin, 30, has 215 career receptions for 2,006 yards and 15 touchdowns in seven seasons. He also could be a factor in the running game and special teams.
Brown, 30, is also a seven-year veteran. He has 116 catches for 1,563 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career.
Nelson, 28, has been in the NFL for five seasons. He has 85 career receptions for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Bourne and Aiyuk have been the most productive wide receivers through the first eight practices of training camp. The club is hopeful Samuel will be available for the start of the regular seaon. Dante Pettis appears to be the best of the next group of wideouts while the three veterans are trying to learn the system and find their roles.
“They have a lot of questions,” Bourne said. “They’re still learning the program, too, and the plays, so I’m helping them here and there, too. That’s another role I’m playing. Yeah, they help me just little things here and there from playing their six, seven years.
“And I’m helping them here and there if they have a question about what they got to do. I give them a little whisper to help their game and speed up the process.”