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West Coast Revival

Posted Oct 6, 2011

Fans were delighted back in January with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers coaching staff.

As soon as the words “West Coast Offense,” were uttered at Harbaugh’s introductory press conference, visions of Jerry Rice and John Taylor catching short passes and taking them the distance filled the minds of Faithful 49ers fans across the country.

Now, some eight months later, those visions are being reincarnated in the form of Joshua Morgan and Michael Crabtree taking short passes for long gains in addition to performing many of the selfless plays that those wide receivers of the past performed routinely.

Morgan caught a 30-yard touchdown pass last week against Philadelphia on the same type of slant pattern that Rice and Taylor made synonymous with 49ers football. Crabtree made several tough catches in traffic that moved the chains for the offense.

Both Morgan and Crabtree feel like perfect fits in the new-look 49ers offense. Versatile receivers in their own rights, both have proven to be quality football players – a term both players take very seriously.

“We can go short, we can go long,” Crabtree said. “We can do it all.”

In order to be a successful wideout in the offensive system perfected by legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, a receiver has to be a complete player. They must not only posses great athleticism, hands, and ability to run clean routes, there has to be physical and mental toughness.

Morgan knows those traits well. He watches old highlights of Jerry Rice’s career with the 49ers right before every game.

“That’s like my pregame ritual now,” Morgan said. “I watch it before the game, take it with me and watch on my computer, too.”

Both of the 49ers starting wideouts have demonstrated the characteristics of a successful receiver from a West Coast offense.

Morgan, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound target, has proven to be a team-player time and time again in his four years in San Francisco.

Morgan’s stats (10 catches for 145 yards through four games) won’t earn him league-wide recognition, but in the 49ers locker room, teammates all respect his contributions. They know how important Morgan and all the wide receivers are to the offense’s success.

But it’s not just in the passing game where players like Morgan and Crabtree have made an impact. In the running game, both have demonstrated the willingness to make blocks down the field.

“I love to see that,” guard Adam Snyder said. “I think our whole receiving corps has done that this year.”

Snyder said it’s especially important when you have a top-tier running back like Frank Gore, who is as dangerous as any runner when reaching the second and third levels of a defense.

“We’ve been spreading the ball out, but having those guys also help in the run game is huge for us,” Snyder added. “With a running back like Frank, you get him to the safeties; he’s got a good chance of scoring.”

Helping Gore spring loose is nothing new to Morgan, who has been a relatively unknown contributor to the team’s success when running the ball.

It doesn’t matter to Morgan, though.

“It’s about being who you are and that’s how I am in life, period. You always stay humble and do what you have to do to be successful,” Morgan said. “And for me personally, I’m addicted to success.  I’m addicted to being great. And in order to be great, you have to humble yourself. You have to do what the team needs. You have to do what you have to do to win.

“So you do the little things, like blocking downfield and all the dirty work. You don’t get credit for it. You don’t get recognized for it, but in the grand scheme of things, when it’s time to win the Super Bowl, that’s when it counts.”

Morgan and Crabtree will be recognized much more on Sunday when they face a Tampa Bay defense well-known for its cornerback play. Veteran Ronde Barber and emerging play-maker Aqib Talib are two of the best in the league and are players the 49ers are well aware of.

“They have a lot of great talent over there,” Morgan said of the NFL’s No. 21 passing defense (267.0 yards per game). “You can tell Ronde is having one of his best years, just from watching film. You can’t tell he’s played 14 years at all. He takes control over the secondary and he’s the leader.”

When it comes to Talib, both Morgan and Crabtree are even more familiar.

Morgan’s Virginia Tech Hokies lost a bowl game to Talib’s Kansas Jayhawks.

Crabtree, on the other hand, was less focused on the players he’ll face this weekend. As a Texas Tech Red Raider, he faced Talib often in Big-12 play.

The two faced-off again last season, when the 49ers offense was shutout and Crabtree was held to one catch for 15 yards.

But Crabtree, who is coming off his best game of the season, one where he led the 49ers with five catches for 68 yards against some of the best cornerbacks in the game, is optimistic about repeating that success.

Just as he showed last week, the third-year receiver isn’t concentrated on the name on the back of the jersey, but more so the competition that’ll take place.

“I don’t really worry about the names,” said Crabtree, who has nine catches for 96 yards in three games. “Once I get on the field, it’s me against the cornerback. I don’t really get into the names I’m playing against.”

Going into the game, the receivers understand the challenge and are willing to accept it.

“It’s going to be a tough test for our offense to attack their defense,” Morgan said. “We’ve got to use great technique and execute. When you play a team like that, they’re going to mostly stay the same and see if you can beat them. You play your technique and play consistent every chance you get.

“When you cut out the mistakes, and the mental errors, the talent really speaks for itself. That’s the biggest thing we have to do.”

Crabtree appears to be more focused on the scheme he’ll face.

Based on the games they’ve played so far, the Bucs have shown more of a willingness to play man-to-man coverage, and have played less of the “Tampa 2” Cover 2 defense they’ve made famous.

Crabtree isn’t so sure what coverage he’ll face on Sunday, but will be prepared for it all.

“You can’t really tell until you get into the game,” Crabtree added. “That’s when you see how they’re going to play you. I don’t want to jump to conclusions on what they’re going to play or what they’ve been playing. We’re just going to see what they do for us on Sunday.”

Other than a win, Crabtree said he’s looking for one last thing.

“I want to score a touchdown… I’ve been missing the end zone.”

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