Now that Michael Crabtree is finally on an NFL roster in San Fran, where does he fit?
I’ve been a believer this season that the 49ers, under Mike Singletary, are built to win without a No.1 guy on the outside, without an explosive playmaker — because that’s what they’ve shown us at the quarter mark of the 2009 season. They’re one play, one Brett Favre heave, from being 4-0.
But does that mean Singletary and QB Shaun Hill won’t welcome Crabtree to the roster, the game plan and the remaining 12 games of the season and postseason (which looks more and more like a possibility in San Fran)?
No, because outside of Isaac Bruce, who no longer has the explosive play-making ability he had in St. Louis with the Rams, there aren’t many options for this team. Instead, Hill has built a nice on-field relationship with TE Vernon Davis, and at this point in the season, he’s the Niners’ leading receiver with 17 receptions for 211 yards and 3 TDs. This is a power football team that wins by running the ball and playing defense.
That game changer, however, is still missing.
Should we believe that Crabtree, who has never seen a game plan and never practiced in the NFL, can suddenly step onto the biggest stage and make plays all over the field? Because he’s not only a rookie, he’s a rookie who has no idea what it takes to succeed at this level — yet. And how can he?
This will take some time. I doubt that Crabtree will immediately provide massive returns for his massive contract, but one player he can emulate as he begins his learning curve of professional football is Bears rookie WR Johnny Knox.
If you’ve watched the Bears at all this season, you can see that the way they use Knox is the reason he’s getting so much pub — basic routes, plays where he gets the ball in his hands quickly, and special teams.
Think of the one-step slant, the bubble screen and the basic deep routes in every NFL playbook — the post, the 7-route (flag route) and the 9-route (go route). These types of routes don’t require a rookie WR to think on the fly, decipher coverages or work with other receivers in the route tree.
They are predetermined, and they get the ball into the hands of young playmakers early in the play — and the rest is left to athletic ability. Yes, he will have to learn — quickly — how to defeat press coverage at this level and how to defeat top-level cornerbacks, but that is part of the process that’s now starting.
But even saying that, Crabtree still has to put his body into game shape. Most likely, he’ll be used in spot duty, becoming part of certain offensive packages, because I doubt that a coach like Singletary is going to force him into the lineup over veteran players who have paid their dues in the offseason program, the tough conditioning, training camp and the first four games of the season.
But Crabtree is finally here, Niners fans. The contract is signed and the drama is being swept into the background. Sure, veteran opposing players will try to size him up on every play he sees the field, but that’s part of being a rookie.
Now, we get to see if it was all worth it.
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