Understanding what you are watching when WR Randy Moss practices…

WR Randy Moss makes a catch during on-field practice/AP

Randy Moss has a reputation for being a player who doesn’t go hard in practice. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe there were times when he didn’t finish drills, but I watched him for two training camps and that wasn’t the case. Teammates say he works.

In particular, what the veteran receiver does is make catches. Some ridiculous catches. I remember when Moss posterized Jets CB Darrelle Revis in 2010 with the sickest catch I’ve ever seen in person — a one-handed touchdown. And Patriots coach Bill Belichick shrugged.

“We’ve seen that play in practice probably a dozen times,” Belichick said two years ago.

He’s right. In training camp (the practices open to the media), Moss impresses. I’ve seen him destroy countless defensive backs with catches few can make. His speed is always evident and few have the raw ability he does.

That brings me to the latest update from San Francisco, where Moss is doing his thing for his new team. Onlookers were in awe of Moss, and those who watched say he looks young. He made eyes pop with a 55-yard touchdown. No doubt in my mind, this will continue throughout training camp.

The oohs and ahhs will be neverending. Trust me, I’ve been there. I am legitimately appreciative that I got to watch him work on a daily basis.

None of this will determine whether Moss’ comeback with the 49ers will be a success.

Sorry, but it’s true. Moss is a freak of an athlete. He works intensely hard in training. He’ll never be out of shape, and his workouts are legendary. None of that will determine the fate of his comeback at age 35.

Based on my research, I don’t recall the Patriots gave up on Moss because he lacked the physical tools. At that point, specifically after he was targeted 10 times and had just two catches in that same Jets game in 2010, QB Tom Brady lost faith in him. Moss was all about his contract, he was frustrated, and it wasn’t working. It was time for a breakup. It wasn’t about Moss physically, it was more about business and the situation.

What changed was that Moss stopped fighting through coverage. He stopped battling in games. He, even so slightly, eased off the pedal in games, and that was enough. Moss always had skills. But particularly at the end of his time with the Patriots and in his time with the Vikings (the second time) and Titans, Moss seemed content to take away two defenders and be covered.

Will he grit his teeth and fight this time? 

If Moss does go all out, look out. If Alex Smith can can get him the ball, it could be something to behold. If not, that’s that.

That in-game decision Moss makes — and no one knows what he’ll decide — will be the determiner of whether he makes it. Does he fight that extra bit to get off the line? Does he muscle through a jam? Is he, as one old coach called him, easily daunted? Will he decide it is worth it, at his age after a year away, to battle.

All that will make the call on if Moss electrifies the NFL in his comeback. So, to those watching Niners practice — enjoy. It’s fun to watch. But be cautious in using Moss’ practice artwork to say whether he’ll be back.

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