SANTA CLARA And the fall-semester perfect pupil award goes to Randy Moss?
Yes, the one player every 49ers fan fretted would unravel the locker room that coach Jim Harbaugh knotted so tightly last season has been one of the players holding it firmly in place through the first eight games.
Moss has been only a small part of the 49ers' success on the field. He has 13 catches fifth on the team for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
He's been the team's third- or fourth-most used wide receiver, depending on the game. On many plays, he's merely a decoy, lining up far wide of the formation and taking a cornerback and safety downfield with him as Alex Smith hands the ball to Frank Gore.
On other plays, Moss has broken open, but Smith either has looked elsewhere or been pressured and unable to get off a pass.
Those situations, especially when Moss' opportunities have been so few, were supposed to be cause for concern and, believe me, there have been dozens of pairs of binoculars trained on Moss as he has jogged back to the sideline or huddle after a fruitless sprint downfield.
His body language on the sideline, however, has been shoulders-squared positive. And his feedback in the huddle has been minimal.
"Never says, 'I saw this out there get it to me.' Nothing like that," Smith told Sports Illustrated's Peter King last week. "The honest truth is he's taken so much pride in things that no one would notice, like the run game, that the other guys have no choice but to follow his lead."
The fear heading into the season was that a disengaged Moss would be a disruptive Moss.
That he hasn't had a large role in the passing game, however, doesn't mean he's not plugged in. Along with everyone else the media, opposing coaches, opposing linebackers Moss appears to be rapt by the 49ers' complex running attack.
It's been a surprise to Smith in the meeting room.
"The questions asked, yeah, especially in the run game, no question," Smith said Tuesday. "You can tell it's something that he thinks about a lot and takes a lot of pride in."
Added offensive coordinator Greg Roman: "As a coach, sometimes you say, 'All right, what do I tell the players? What don't I tell them?' At some point, you can tell them too much, right? Everybody's got a saturation point. Well, I don't know that (Moss) does. He asks the questions on the smallest little details, even in the running game, let alone the passing game."
Earlier in the season, it looked as if Moss was stepping into gopher holes as soon as he caught the football. The 35-year-old wideout, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, would drop to the ground so abruptly to avoid contact that self-preservation appeared to be his top priority.
In the most recent game against Arizona, however, Moss received two ovations from the 49ers' sideline.
One came on third and eight in the third quarter. Moss caught a short pass from Smith and could have run safely out of bounds with a nine-yard pickup and a first down. Instead, he cut back inside toward pursuing linebackers and safeties and outran all of them for a 47-yard touchdown.
The other came three plays earlier when, at the end of a 30-yard catch and run by Michael Crabtree, Moss lowered his shoulder and decked Cardinals free safety Kerry Rhodes, enabling Crabtree to gain a couple of extra yards.
Both plays triggered forearm-pumping, back-slapping and jumping up and down from 49ers players nearby.
It was clear during training camp that Moss was well-liked and respected by his new teammates.
What may be more important as the 49ers try to secure a playoff spot over the last eight games is that he's happy.