SANTA CLARA Poor Tarell Brown.
Since training camp began, the 49ers cornerback has drawn Randy Moss an awful lot in one-on-one coverage, and on most plays that's been bad news for Brown.
On Wednesday, however, Brown appeared to have the upper hand. He had Moss blanketed as the two ran across the middle of the field on a crossing pattern. But as Alex Smith's pass arrived, Moss slowed for an instant, put his hip into Brown and created just enough space for the ball to slip past the defender's outstretched arm and into the wide receiver's hands.
That bit of magic and veteran savvy is why every cornerback on the roster wants to go against Moss as much as possible because they learn something every time.
It's also why no one on defense pities Brown. They envy him, instead.
"We want to go against the (first-string receivers) all the time," said the team's other starting cornerback, Carlos Rogers. " We want that challenge each and every practice. The competition is big."
During the offseason, the 49ers bolstered their wide receiving corps by signing Moss and Mario Manningham. They also brought in a number of fleet-footed rookie receivers, including first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins and undrafted free agents Chris Owusu and Nathan Palmer.
While those moves were made to add punch to what was a listless downfield passing attack in 2011, the 49ers defense which gave up 12 pass plays of 40 or more yards last year is taking advantage this summer.
"I think any time you go against quality players, it helps you improve," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
"We added to our depth and quality on offense, and it will have a residual effect on us defensively, and we'll be better prepared for going against quality players."
The 49ers have a phalanx of quality players looming on their schedule.
Not only will they face the five most prolific passers from last season, they'll also square off against Detroit's Calvin Johnson, New England's Wes Welker, the New York Giants' Victor Cruz and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (twice). They were the top four wideouts in terms of receiving yards last year.
No beef Cornerback Chris Culliver, who's been jawing at and scuffling with Manningham early in training camp, said there's no bad blood between them.
"Nah he's my teammate now," Culliver said. "No, me and him are cool. Like I said, it's all about competition. At the end of the day, it's not personal. I don't mean to hurt him or nothing like that."
Culliver faced Manningham twice last season when the latter was a member of the Giants. Manningham caught a touchdown pass against the then-rookie in the teams' regular-season matchup, then nearly caught a game-tying touchdown late in the game against Culliver. The pass, however, was overthrown by Eli Manning.
Culliver was limited to playing left cornerback last year after the lockout-shortened offseason. This year, he's learning how to play the right side, too, and in that way is competing with Brown for the starting spot.
Brown has taken all of the first-team repetitions so far in training camp.
Culliver lines up at left cornerback when the first team is in its nickel formation Rogers is the slot cornerback and moves to the right side with the second-string defense.
Et cetera Wide receiver Michael Crabtree (calf) worked out with the strength and conditioning coach while the 49ers practiced Wednesday. Crabtree has missed the past four practices after getting injured on the first day of training camp.
Owusu caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick, one of the longest connections of the summer.
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri cooked for a group of 49ers VIPs on Wednesday. He prepared barbecue chicken.