SANTA CLARA The first thing you need to know about 49ers receivers coach John Morton is that he's not Johnnie Morton, the former All-American at USC who was a first-round draft pick in 1994 and who ended his NFL career with the 49ers in 2005.
No, John Morton took the tougher route to the NFL.
He went undrafted out of Western Michigan in 1993, bounced around a few teams' practice squads, including the Raiders', and ended up playing two seasons in the Canadian Football League.
In 2002, he was an assistant in Oakland, where he met Jim Harbaugh, who was then a low-ranking quality control coach. The two became fast friends Harbaugh, in fact, was recently divorced and lived at Morton's house during that period and Harbaugh would go on to hire him, first at the University of San Diego and again last year with the 49ers.
Morton's previous job had been wide receivers coach at USC, meaning he is one of the few people to have coached under both Harbaugh and his longtime rival, Pete Carroll.
"Competitive they're both competitive," Morton said of similarities. "That's why they're both great coaches."
This year, Morton finds himself in charge of a wide-receiving crew brimming with first-round picks and lofty expectations. Randy Moss, Ted Ginn, Michael Crabtree and, most recently, A.J. Jenkins were selected in the opening round, and they are expected to boost a passing game that finished 29th in the league last season in yards per game.
The headliner so far has been Moss, who caught another deep pass in Tuesday's practice, this one a 40-yard throw from quarterback Alex Smith to the 10-yard line. That play set up a short touchdown pass from Smith to Kyle Williams as the first-team offense worked on the two-minute drill.
Morton echoed Harbaugh in saying that Moss, a 14-year veteran, has been like a second coach in both the meeting room and on the field.
"He comes in the building, he brings his lunch pail and hard hat," Morton said. "And he tries to do his due diligence in the classroom. He sits up front. And the younger guys see that. He's a Hall of Famer. The younger guys see that, and they want to be just like him."
The young players following Moss' every move include Jenkins, who was one of the faster receivers in the April draft.
Moss is signed for only one year, and the hope among 49ers officials is that Jenkins will learn from Moss this season and take over as a deep threat next year.
So far, Jenkins, who has a Randy Moss jersey in his closet at home, can't help but oblige.
"Anything that he does, I'm looking," Jenkins said. "That's running routes, that's getting off press (coverage), that's catching balls, that's eating the right things, that's treatment everything that he does. Because he's been in the league for, what, 14 or 15 years? That's respect."
Morton says he's quick to point out to his pupils that there is room on the roster and perhaps the practice squad for receivers who don't have Moss' and Jenkins' pedigrees. Crabtree and Mario Manningham missed Tuesday's voluntary session, which allowed more practice repetitions for undrafted players such as Joe Hastings and rookies Nathan Palmer and Brian Tyms.
"When I see a guy who's on the practice squad or is a free agent, yeah, I look at myself sometimes and I want those guys to do well," Morton said. "Because so to speak, they're behind the eight ball a little bit. But there are plenty of guys that have been free agents that have made the team. And I point that out and make sure they know that because that gives them confidence. So they have a chance."