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Michael Crabtree Maximizes First Preseason

Posted Aug 28, 2012

The San Francisco 49ers first-team units will see action Thursday night in the team’s preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers, Jim Harbaugh announced on Tuesday.

The exact number of snaps for each side of the ball, however, will be determined on an individual basis.

“That’s somewhat ongoing,” Harbaugh explained. “It’s more of an individual thing than it is just the starters will play X amount.”

For fourth-year wideout Michael Crabtree, a starter in all three of the 49ers preseason contests thus far, the playing time has been a welcomed learning experience. After all, it’s the first time the 6-foot-1, 214-pound wide receiver has competed in the NFL’s exhibition season.

“They’ve been like scrimmages, a real-live practice,” Crabtree said. “It’s been cool.”

Teammates and coaches have raved about Crabtree’s leaner build this offseason and how his improved health has enabled him to develop a greater rapport with starting quarterback Alex Smith.

This time last year, Crabtree was battling a foot injury that remained with him through the start of the regular season. But now, Crabtree’s summer of work has translated into consistent preseason playing time.

His role in the 49ers offense to date, five catches for 28 yards, is one of many reasons Harbaugh believes the team is much improved heading into the 2012 season.

“I think we’re better,” Harbaugh said in his Tuesday press conference. “I think we’re better as a football team than where we were last year at this time.”

Crabtree agrees.

“We had a full offseason,” explained the leading 49ers receiver in catches (72) and receiving yards (874) last season. “I feel like we’ve been out here getting better every day.”

The 49ers have taken steps in recent weeks, but have been smart about not showing too much, too early.

“That happens on a lot of levels,” Harbaugh said, “offensively, defensively and special teams.”

So while the 49ers have been careful not to dive too far deep into the pages of Greg Roman’s playbook in the preseason, they have been able to work on Crabtree’s timing with Smith.

In the third preseason game, Sunday’s 29-24 win over the Denver Broncos, the former No. 10 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft led the 49ers in receptions, catching three passes for 21 yards. All of Crabtree’s catches came in the first quarter, further emphasizing his important role in the offense.

Crabtree admitted he’s eager for the regular season, but knows there’s more work to be done prior to the Sept. 9 season opener in Green Bay.

“We’re ready to play, we’re all excited,” Crabtree said. “We’re ready to go out there and do what we’ve been practicing this whole offseason and this training camp. We’re trying to put some things together and make something happen.”

In order to make something out of the regular season, the 49ers will utilize one last preseason contest to sharpen everything up to Harbaugh’s liking.

Asked what’s left to accomplish before the coaching staff starts game-planning for the Packers, Harbaugh said several things need to be tightened.

“I think first and foremost, establishing a rhythm in and out of the huddle, snap count, substitutions, alignment,” Harbaugh said. “All those things that relate to getting in a good rhythm offensively.”

“Want to be razor sharp coming out of this game,” he added.

The 49ers will be without Mario Manningham, who is grieving the loss of his grandfather. Harbaugh said Manningham won’t be available to play against San Diego.

“Condolences to Mario and his family,” the 49ers coach said.

It’s not known if Randy Moss will line up opposite of Crabtree as the team’s other starting wideout on Thursday, but the 49ers players appreciate the coaching staff finding roles for players outside of the starting 11.

Roman previously talked about wanting to use all of his weapons and not let receivers “collect dust.”

Even offensive linemen have experienced the positive side of Roman’s versatile usages of the team’s massive maulers.

Last week in Denver, veteran guard Leonard Davis joined the first-team offense to line up repeatedly as an extra blocking tight end. A three-time Pro Bowler like Davis has taken to the role, so have his line teammates.

Players love when Harbaugh, Roman and others find specific roles for reserve players.

“It’s smart,” said right tackle Anthony Davis who lined up next to Leonard Davis at times in the short-yardage package. “Like (Harbaugh) says, this is the ultimate team sport. He makes it that way. I think it’s an advantage if you use your whole team.”

In the case of Crabtree, the 49ers are seeing the young wideout continue to master his craft while competing with the deepest receiving core of his four years in San Francisco.

“I’m ready for that first game,” he said.

But first, the 49ers will have to be “razor-sharp” on Thursday.

“If you’re going out on the field, you want to be at your best,” Anthony Davis added. “We want to play well. We’re prepared for it and ready to go.”

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