Speedy Northern Illinois WR Da'Ron Brown Eyes Reunion with Jimmie Ward

Joining Associated Press photographers at the annual showcase for draft-eligible talent is our enterprising 49ers Studios crew.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two and a half hours northwest of Lucas Oil Stadium sits the campus of Northern Illinois.

There, Da'Ron Brown and Jimmie Ward were part of the same 2009 recruiting class and subsequently spent four years together playing for the Huskies.

Brown, a wide receiver, recalled countless practice hours lining up against Ward, a defensive back who the San Francisco 49ers selected in the first round of the draft last year.

"Competing against Jimmie, you always have to be ready to step your game up," Brown said on Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "He's not going to take a play off, so neither can you. You have to be at your best because iron sharpens iron."

Brown is at the combine a year after Ward because he redshirted as a freshman. And although the wideout isn't expected to be taken until the final day of the draft, he believes his big-play ability will attract NFL teams.

"When you're a vertical threat, sometimes that can open up your underneath routes because they fear you going over the top," Brown said. "That's what I can bring to the pros."

As a junior, Brown led NIU with 752 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He followed that up by amassing 1,065 yards and six scores as a senior.

Brown's six touchdowns last season were from an average of 49 yards out, including four of 54 yards or more. That type of deep threat is something the 49ers wanted more of in 2014, leading general manager Trent Baalke to say on Wednesday that it's "no mystery we're looking for guys that can run and get down the field."

Brown, who confirmed that he informally interviewed with the 49ers in Indianapolis, will need an impressive 40-yard dash time on Saturday to show scouts that he can get separation from defensive backs in the pros.

"Everybody wants to run the fastest 40 time," Brown said. "But at the end of the day, if you're a good football player, it shows on the field."

Throughout the draft process, Brown has leaned on Ward for advice on what to expect and how to handle the scrutiny. Ward even helped his former teammate pick his agent.

Should the 49ers take a flyer on Brown in the draft or in free agency if he isn't selected, the wideout would welcome a reunion with Ward.

"It would be something spectacular in my eyes," Brown said. "Me and Jimmie are close friends, so just to play with him again, I believe we could help each other out since we already have a relationship. That can benefit us both."

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