By Len Pasquarelli
The Sports Xchange
Some might call Michael Crabtree's performance in three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers a disappointment since being the 10th overall player chosen in the 2009 draft.
But his supporters on the coaching staff have pointed out that Crabtree hasn't yet played with a complementary wide receiver who had more than 52 catches in a season. And, in 2011, the second leading San Francisco wideout had just 20 grabs. The additions of free agents Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, and the choice of A,J. Jenkins in the first round, should render moot, the 49ers contend, all of the excuses about Crabtree's lack of big plays.
"They'll all make each other better," said offensive coordinator Greg Roman. "They can feed off each other." So far in the offseason, Crabtree appears to be the hungry man in the receiver corps. A pair of San Francisco coaches told The Sports Xchange that Crabtree -- who signed late as a rookie and has undergone foot surgeries in successive years -- appears poised for a breakout season. Of course, for Crabtree, who had career bests in receptions (72) and yards (874), the term "breakout" might be relative.
With Frank Gore around, San Francisco isn't likely to have a receiver with 85-90 catches, but the 49ers do feel that Crabtree can be more explosive and improve on his career-low 12.1-yard average of a year ago. The 49ers concede the former Texas Tech star is more quick than fast, but still has explosiveness, and can run away from people. "This could be a big year for him," said former offensive assistant Bobby Engram, the onetime NFL wide receiver who is now the wide receivers coach at Pitt.