After watching two hours of practice at 49ers team headquarters on Thursday, I didn’t see Michael Crabtree drop a pass, but that doesn’t mean the rookie wide receiver did not have an active practice.
He looked explosive and deceptively fast while running his routes. He also displayed strong hands and an innate ability to come back to the football.
But don’t take my words as proof of his impressive play.
Here’s what the man responsible for covering him in practice the last couple of days had to say about the 49ers 2009 first-round draft pick.
“He’s got real strong hands and he fights for the ball. I like that about him,” cornerback Tarell Brown said. “Great receivers have strong hands and they really fight for the ball, so I think he’s on the right path.”
Brown, a fellow Texas native like Crabtree, was pleased to add another “Dallas cat” to the 49ers locker room.
“I liked his game in college and I like him now,” Brown added. “He’s a good player.”
Initially offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said Crabtree would primarily play in a limited role against the Texans, but after an impressive first couple of weeks with the team, Crabtree is now being considered as a possible starter as the team’s “X” receiver.
And while Raye has been pleased with what he’s seen on the practice fields from his young receiver, the veteran coach knows that game day is an entirely different animal.
“I think, at this point, he hasn’t flinched on anything, but I’m going to gauge that based on the game, the speed of the game and how it starts,” Raye said.
Pressed to give an estimation of Crabtree’s playing time, Raye answered, “I think he would play half of the time.”
Considering that he missed training camp, four preseason games and five regular season contests, Crabtree has fresher legs than his new teammates. The same can be said for his opposition, the Houston Texans defense.
Physically, Crabtree looks the part, standing at 6-1, 214-pounds. He stayed in great shape despite being away from the team and that dedication has paid off in practice. Mentally, Crabtree has shown that he has his head focused on the right things.
While he was away from the game he loved, Crabtree would run routes against friends who would line up in a Cover 2 defense to give him a scenario he would see on a football field.
“I was just reading defenses [in my head] and trying to run routes against [them],” Crabtree explained.
Although he won’t be responsible for learning the entire 49ers playbook by Sunday, Crabtree will have to have the game plan for the Texans down.
“The whole process has been big on me so, I’m just taking it one step at a time and just trying to get better every day,” he said. “I don’t think that anything is easy. I just think that you’ve got to watch a lot of film and hopefully I can get it by the time it is game time. “
Instead of going away for the bye week, Crabtree spent most of his time off at the team facility working with teammates and coaches to prepare for his NFL debut.
“I was really trying to get as much as I could get in,” Crabtree detailed. “I was trying to get that step over everybody. I was just trying to work hard.”
Crabtree said being surrounded by “good players and good teammates” has significantly helped his transition to the NFL. Crabtree added, “I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Typical rookie nerves combined with the timing of Crabtree’s debut and the location of his first game – should make this Sunday a stressful experience – but not so according to Crabtree.
“When you’re out on that field, it’s just football,” he said. “I’m not really too worried about where I’m at or who I’m playing. It’s just football.”
Crabtree, a Dallas native, expects to have 20-30 friends and relatives in attendance.
“I’m very excited to see those guys. I haven’t seen them in months,” he said.
Now that he’s put in a heavy amount of work to prepare himself for his NFL debut, Crabtree is pleased with the groundwork he’s put in so far.
“Preparation is a big part of football and what I do as a receiver; I feel that by going hard on Wednesdays and Thursdays, it’ll be easier on Sundays.”
Tags: jimmy Raye, Michael Crabtree, Tarell Brown
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