Seven-year pro Battle may be moving from WR to punt returner

  • The 49ers' Arnaz Battle ranked second on the team in catches and receiving yards during the 2006 season. (John Burgess / PD)

SANTA CLARA — While one door is closing for wide receiver Arnaz Battle, another opened with the 49ers' decision to release return specialist Allen Rossum.

Battle has been the 49ers' No. 3 receiver. But that role is likely to change with the addition of rookie Michael Crabtree, the No. 10 overall pick in the draft.

And that isn't the only additional obstacle for Battle. Crabtree's arrival comes at a time when high-priced free-agent pickup Brandon Jones rounds into shape after missing extended time with a broken shoulder blade.

Sure, it's been a frustrating time for Battle, but he has maintained his smile and a good sense of humor.

The 49ers under offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye are throwing fewer passes to their wideouts than any team in the league. Battle, Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan are the only 49ers wide receivers who have caught passes in the first five games.

Yet, the 49ers have seven receivers on their 53-man roster.

“Yeah, seven,” Battle said, laughing. “Last year we had five (receivers) and that was with (Mike) Martz, and we threw the ball a lot. So it's backwards. It's frustrating, but what can you do?”

Battle, a seventh-year pro in the final year of his contract with the 49ers, was the team's primary punt returner in 2004. He averaged a solid 8.6 yards on 31 returns with a touchdown.

But he returned only 12 punts over the next four seasons. Now, Battle appears to have regained his role from five years ago. Understandably, he looked out of practice two weeks ago when he muffed two punts against the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park.

“You just have to get back in the comfort zone of doing it in the games,” Battle said. “In that first game, I struggled with the wind a little bit and adjusting to the ball. But it'll come around. I'll be ready to go.”

Battle said he is ready for just about anything, including the NFL trade deadline on Oct. 20. Already this week, the 49ers have released Rossum, activated Crabtree and allowed practice-squad running back Kory Sheets to sign with the Miami Dolphins.

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