Michael Crabtree is already having a career year, and he still has two games to go.
The former first-round pick has emerged as Colin Kaepernick’s go-to guy on the perimeter this season. For Kaepernick, the reason is simple.
“He’s open,” Kaepernick said.
Crabtree has been open often this season, leading to new career highs of 73 catches and seven touchdowns, while his 868 yards are just six shy of his career best set in 2011.
The Kaepernick-to-Crabtree connection peaked in Week 15, as the wideout hauled in seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter of the 41-34 win at New England. In the past three weeks alone, Kaepernick has targeted Crabtree 34 times, resulting in 23 catches for 301 yards and two scores.
“I think Crab matches up well against everybody,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “Crab’s a player who’s ascending. He gets better and that’s what this league is all about, it’s improvement. He’s a young player in this player in this league and he’s a guy that’s showing up big time for us, regardless of the style of coverage.”
Once Crabtree gets his hands on the ball, he’s usually just getting started. Take last week’s second touchdown for example.
Crabtree ran a 5-yard hitch route on the left side of the field before Kaepernick delivered a dart. Crabtree did the rest, shaking off a would-be tackle from cornerback Kyle Arrington, spinning around and sprinting into the end zone for a 38-yard score.
“He doesn’t beg for the ball,” Roman said, “but he’ll be quick to point out when he makes a big play that you can come to me in those situations and that’s good. He’s a team guy all the way, team guy all the way.”
Crabtree has made a name for himself this season as one of the toughest receivers in the league to tackle after the catch. It seems a game can’t go by without Crabtree making a catch and breaking tackles to make a big play in the game for a first down or a touchdown.
In fact, the fourth-year veteran currently ranks fifth among NFL wideouts with 450 yards after the catch this season. It’s that type of toughness which has made Crabtree a popular player among his teammates.
“Tough runner,” Alex Boone said. “He’s a good player and runs hard. There’s not much more you can ask from a wide receiver. It’s exciting to watch him play.”
It’s not by accident, either. Roman said Crabtree has been putting in consistent extra work on cone drills this season to work on his agility, and that it’s translating out on to the field. There’s also film study involved, as the coaches try to fill in the players on the tackling tendencies of the opposing defenders.
When you consider Crabtree’s combination of work ethic and talent, perhaps it’s no surprise he’s put together a career year in 2012.
“He’s always been confident,” Roman said of Crabtree. “He’s never been one, at least around me that I’ve seen, that is making wide-ranging boasts and claims. He just goes about his business and is taking care of his business.”
Tags: Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree
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