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The return of Brandon Lloyd

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Brandon Lloyd has not returned to the individual heights he scaled during his Pro Bowl season of 2010. That was his first -- and only -- 1,000-yard season as a pro, a year in which he made one unfathomable catch after another.

But he has endured. After a season out of football, Lloyd, now a 49er, will play at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the first time since the Broncos traded him to the St. Louis Rams five games into the 2011 season.

In the Broncos' most forgettable season in the last four decades -- a 4-12 finish in 2010 -- Lloyd was unforgettable. His acrobatic receptions were the only highlights of a season in which the club hit rock bottom before its subsequent ascent.

"His body control was off the charts," recalled Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, the Broncos' wide receivers coach during Lloyd's career year. "I've never seen anybody that was able to adjust to throws the way he does and he made the most of his opportunities no matter who was at quarterback."

The numbers bore that out. In the 2010 season, Lloyd averaged 4.8 catches for 91.2 yards per game when Kyle Orton started -- and 4.7 receptions for 87.7 yards during Tim Tebow's three starts. Lloyd was going to make plays, no matter what, and the two quarterbacks targeted him 153 times.

"Our philosophy that year was we were going to take as many shots as possible a game and he made them count, every one," recalled Gase. "He'd get open, we'd hit him in stride and he'd take it the distance.

"I don't think I've ever been around a guy who had that many opportunities and made the most of it. We were really throwing the ball down the field quite a bit and he made a lot of plays."

Equal to the plays was the impression he made on fellow wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, then a rookie.

"He's just a different type of dude because he can run routes the way I never saw before," Thomas remembered. "So I got to work with him and he was telling me the stuff he did. Of course he's looser than I am but just the way he's so smooth and all his routes and make everything look the same, it kind of helped me out."

Watch Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware race each other through pass rush drills after Terrance Knighton broke down the huddle with a "Gimme 98!" at Wednesday's practice.

His impact also remains through cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who faced him during training camp in 2011 after the players returned from the offseason lockout.

"I tried to go against him every day to try to get better. That really helped jump me to get better my rookie year," said Harris.

"I was just trying to get better going against him. There's one thing that I knew he was really good at: he had great releases. That's one thing I remember. He was good at getting off press, and that's one thing I'll remember for this game."

And if Harris' teammates want to know how much of a threat remains, they need only ask him. His playing time isn't what it was in Denver, as the 49ers have a deep, experienced receiving corps.

But as he showed on his 80-yard touchdown catch in St. Louis on Monday, he remains capable of stretching a defense beyond its breaking point, then leaping over it for the score.

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