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49ers workouts reveal strained dynamic between Crabtree and Smith

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There's been a lot of intrigue surrounding the quarterback position in San Francisco lately. 2005 first-rounder Alex Smith thought he was on his way out after an underwhelming six-year campaign, only to get the "Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!" treatment from new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, who had his own estimable NFL quarterback career to go on, expressed enough confidence in Smith (back when quarterbacks and their coaches were allowed to talk to each other) that Smith went forward as a team leader to organize workouts with his teammates after the lockout went into effect.

One of the notable absences from the early sessions was receiver Michael Crabtree, the high-maintenance receiver who is still trying to validate the first-round pick the 49ers placed on him in 2009. After missing the 2010 preseason with a neck injury, Crabtree struggled to get on the same page with Smith, and finished his second season with 55 catches for 741 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad numbers, but not what you'd expect from a guy taken 10th overall two seasons before.

With so much at stake for both former first-rounders, you'd think Smith and Crabtree would be working together this offseason. You would be wrong. When Crabtree finally did show up for player-organized workouts on Monday, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, one of his first questions was, "Who's the quarterback?" Barrows responded that Smith was the quarterback, and Crabtree responded, "He's the quarterback? I'm just asking."

"Whoever the quarterback is, I'm gonna do my job," Crabtree told reporters later. "I'm going to do the best I can to get whatever he needs. You know what I'm saying? That's just how it's going to be. I'm not one-sided. I'm for whoever's the quarterback. It's just how I've been. Everybody knows that."

It was a strange way to react to a quarterback who organized all offseason workouts for the team; perhaps Crabtree was responding to Smith's recent take on his absences from those workouts, despite the fact that the mercurial receiver had reportedly been in the Bay Area all along. Smith was asked by the Sacramento Bee the week before about Crabtree's absences, and his answer was telling — without being telling. "Great question," Smith told the inquiring reporter. "Asking the wrong guy, honestly."

It's a curious dynamic, because as iffy as each player has been through his own career, the Smith-Crabtree hookup has been pretty solid. As Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders and Mac's Football Blog pointed out, "In 27 career games, Crabtree has been targeted 187 times and has 103 receptions for 1,366 yards and eight touchdowns. Smith has been the quarterback for 22 of those games, with Crabtree catching 88 of the 157 passes Smith has thrown his way for 1,122 yards and five touchdowns."

This is one of the problems with these types of workouts — players aren't in controlled situations, and things tend to come out that ordinarily wouldn't — or, at the very least, those things could be handled by coaching staffs. As they navigate the post-lockout waters, players most choose, as the Three Stooges used to say, between "All for one, one for all" and "Every man for himself."

Right now, it's Crabtree who appears to be acting more like a Stooge.