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Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Setting realistic expectations for Crabtree

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

 
  Douglas Jones/US Presswire
  How long with it take for Michael Crabtree to get on the field?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Mychal Lowman asks via Facebook: Mike, am I wrong in thinking that Michael Crabtree will immediately help the passing game just by his big-play potential? Somehow, I think Josh Morgan, Isaac Bruce and Vernon Davis will be racking up bigger numbers in the first few weeks that Crabtree is available.

Mike Sando: The 49ers won three of their first four games without Crabtree. Their passing game remains hamstrung by protection issues and their stated intention to bring along the offense at a deliberate pace. I spoke to Trent Dilfer this morning about the 49ers' smartest plan for Crabtree. He is uniquely positioned to understand this situation given his strong ties to the 49ers, his familiarity with their personnel and his working relationship with Crabtree.
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Dilfer thinks the 49ers should -- and ultimately will -- bring along Crabtree slowly. He thinks the team needs Crabtree at his best late in the season because they'll need what he offers to win playoff games.

"The first four weeks, I wouldn't really expect there to be much of him," Dilfer said. "If he is active or inactive, that might become a political issue, but you've got to get him used to the fire. I think there is a training camp period of time for his body, his mind, his teammates getting the trust level built up, finding a place to live, all that. He needs a four-week buffer and that limits his chances for injury as well."

Dilfer and I both think the 49ers will not change their offensive philosophy upon adding Crabtree, beyond possibly sprinkling in an extra three-receiver grouping here and there while figuring out how best to use their newest weapon.

"Use the first four weeks as his training camp where he gets tons of reps in practice, lots of work after practice, he digests the playbook and focuses on the precision of route running, not Sunday game performance," Dilfer said. "Then you get to Weeks 8 to 12, the third quarter of the season, and use it for an adaptation of him into the offense. Where does he fit? Does he play 30 snaps a game as one of the two receivers? Do we add four or five three-receiver plays in the course of a game? Does he became primary in our progressions? Is he secondary? Do you give him 3-4-5 specific types of routes that he is running? This is an experimental phase."

By the final month of the regular season, the 49ers would have a good idea how Crabtree fits into their offense. Crabtree would have had time to earn quarterback Shaun Hill's trust on at least a few routes. Remember, Hill has never thrown a pass to Crabtree. Hill is not going to strong-arm passes to Crabtree. That is not his game. In order to anticipate Crabtree's whereabouts on a route, Hill will have to know he can trust the rookie receiver. Once the rapport is established and Crabtree's role defined, the team can maximize his talents.

"If that is done properly and you are the team I think they are, a playoff team, he is impactful in the playoffs," Dilfer said.