SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Some players take the easy, dishonest route. They feign ignorance to public criticism and say it wouldn't bother them anyway.
Not receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
The San Francisco 49ers' new speed threat cares what people think and understands why they hold players to high standards. His conscientious nature comes through in what he says and through his actions (quarterback Alex Smith said Ginn has been working at 49ers headquarters every day since the team acquired him April 16). How much does Ginn care? Sometimes he'll Google his name just to see what people are saying about him following an ultimately disappointing three-year run with the Miami Dolphins.
"You never know what you are going to find," Ginn said following a training camp practice last week. "You got the guys who love their team. You can't get mad at a fan who loves Miami that has been down there for 40 years and understands the tradition, just like you can't get mad at a fan who knows San Francisco. They want something out of you that they expect that you should do. It means I have to go out and give it to them."
That's the plan in San Francisco, where Ginn has made a positive impression with his diligence and breakaway speed. He's a leading candidate to return kickoffs and punts this season while serving as the No. 3 receiver behind Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. The 49ers think Ginn's speed can influence opposing safeties in ways that benefit their other receiving threats, including Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. The team isn't expecting Ginn to carry its offense or even fulfill the expectations Miami once had for him as a first-round draft choice.
"I don't know the situation he went through down there in Miami, but since he has been here, he has been a hard worker and just attacking every opportunity he gets out there on the field, and you have to appreciate that," veteran 49ers strong safety Michael Lewis said.
Ginn's deep speed stood out right away during my trip to 49ers training camp. Davis called him "fast, shifty and swift" when asked to size up his new teammate. Ginn consistently got behind cornerbacks and made catches downfield during the first 49ers practice I watched. He also had a few practices marked by a dropped ball here or there, lending credence to the label that bothers Ginn the most: inconsistent. It doesn't take much online sleuthing to find that label attached to the player Miami drafted ninth overall in 2007, before Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano took over the organization and remade the roster.
"You could check a lot of things out over the Internet," Ginn said. "There are a lot of things on there when you type 'Ted Ginn Jr.' Through the offseason and just times when you are alone, you go and look at different things like that. And you see what some people think about you and what some people don't think about it. 'Inconsistent' is one of the words that is out here about me and I don't like that. So I just try to go out every day and just try to get better."
The way Ginn sees things, he had a bad season in 2009 and there isn't much more to say. The disappointment Ginn came to represent in Miami doesn't apply to his relationship with the 49ers, who have shown him nothing but support -- from Crabtree, Morgan and Smith to head coach Mike Singletary and receivers coach Jerry Sullivan. Even defensive players have been helping him out, as when Lewis and fellow safety Dashon Goldson counsel him on various looks he might see from opposing secondaries.
Ginn says his confidence has rebounded as a result. It's a good feeling for Ginn after a tough stretch in Miami.
"I'm enjoying myself," he said.
Ginn posted his finest statistical season in 2008: 56 catches for 790 yards and two touchdowns, with two rushing touchdowns (including a 40-yarder). He scored twice on kickoff returns last season, but his playing time on offense fell from better than 60 percent of snaps in 2008 to less than half of them last season.
Ginn's playing time might not increase this season given how many weapons the 49ers already possess and also because the team has favored personnel groupings with two backs and two tight ends, sometimes at the same time. The team hasn't had a third wide receiver good enough for coordinator Jimmy Raye to justify taking second tight end Delanie Walker off the field on first or second down. Might that change with Ginn onboard? I think it will, but it's tough to say how much.
"I think he can really help this team," Smith said
As Lewis put it: "Our team in particular, having a guy like Ted Ginn out there, you almost have to have a safety over the top with whatever coverages you have, someone keeping an eye on him. And if you have that element, that is one less guy in the box, so it opens up the run game for you. It's a home-run hitter out there."