SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Arnaz Battle survived when the San Francisco 49ers signed four-time Pro Bowl free agent Isaac Bruce before last season. Battle didn't budge when the team brought in Brandon Jones this offseason.
Battle has been a constant for San Francisco in an ever-changing receiving corps, a model of steadiness both in his play and his hard-nosed, do-anything attitude. Those are the kinds of players Mike Singletary likes to have, though there were questions whether Battle would stick around this time.
The 49ers have their most depth at wideout in the last decade, so Battle's status coming into his seventh training camp wasn't clear.
"Every year I feel like I'm fighting for a job," Battle said after a recent practice. "There's only so much I can control. I will continue to do what I do. I know my role on this team."
Now, things are a little different. He's worked his way up the depth chart. Jones is out until late September with a broken right shoulder and unsigned first-round pick Michael Crabtree is still a no-show, making Battle's veteran presence that much more important to an organization that's endured a franchise-worst six straight losing seasons.
Battle's been getting his share of work lately in camp, too.
He started the team's exhibition opener last week against Denver. The former college quarterback at Notre Dame took shotgun snaps Wednesday morning in the Niners' version of the wildcat offense - or "Taser" as new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye refers to it in his playbook.
"Steady, smart guy that can do a lot of things," Raye said. "He can handle the ball as a runner. He's a good intermediate-route, possession receiver and he's sneaky fast."
Battle is relieved to finally be healthy again. He finished last season on injured reserve with a fracture in his right foot that required surgery. He had two screws removed from the foot in the spring.
The seventh-year pro played just nine games in 2008, catching 24 passes for 318 yards while struggling with injuries. He re-aggravated his foot in a 34-13 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 26 in Week 8 and didn't play again.
In each of the previous two seasons, he started 15 of 16 games. He led the receivers in catches in 2006 and '07.
Battle had to play catch up this spring after the injury. He didn't take part in the team's offseason program or optional practices, so Raye is still learning about what Battle brings.
"We've been very pleased with what he's done," Raye said.
Battle knows his experience will help him get back in a hurry. He said he's smarter now, knows what to expect and how to react in a variety of situations.
"It's tough," he said. "I think it's even tougher when you take so much time off. Now being out on the field it's a lot of thinking. When you haven't played football in a while, it takes a while to get back into the groove. You're going to play a little slower. This training camp, each day I've gotten the feel of
playing football and not really thinking as much and more reaction. That has helped me continue to play faster each day."
Battle was the 49ers' second-leading receiver when he got hurt and had played in 42 consecutive games. He also was occasionally returning kickoffs and punts while serving as San Francisco's No. 3 receiver in most offensive sets.
The 29-year-old Battle doesn't mind having to earn a spot this camp. He knows that's part of it in the NFL.
Aside from Bruce, Jason Hill, Josh Morgan, Dominique Zeigler and
Micheal Spurlock have had their impressive moments in camp.
For Battle, a big step is no longer worrying that he'll re-injure his foot while running a route. It still hurts at times, then at other times he doesn't feel it at all.
"For me it's just going out and trying to continue staying healthy, play at a high level and make plays when given the opportunity," Battle said. "It's not going out there thinking, 'I can re-aggravate this foot.' Everything is healed up, everything is mended together and I'm ready to go out there and play football."
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