LONDON ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31: Michael Crabtree #15 of San Francisco 49ers celebrates as he scores their second touchdown during the NFL International Series match between Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on October 31 2010 in London England. This is the fourth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
When San Francisco acquired former New York Jets wideout Braylon Edwards, he was perceived as the band-aid to cover up the scab that was Michael Crabtree's addition to the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. With Crabtree nursing an injured foot, Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan have been getting the first team reps at camp. However, the reality is, the depth chart should eventually feature Edwards as the starting Z receiver and Crabtree playing the X.
With Edwards as the flanking receiver running bundles of deep routes, it will open up the underneath to mid routes for Crabtree. Even though he can catch the deep ball, Crabtree has shown flashes of great playmaking ability once he has possession of the ball in open field. He could potentially turn into a YAC (Yards After Catch) machine in the new west coast installation.
49ers first year offensive co-ordinator, Greg Roman, has said only positive things about the duo. This week Roman said, "Braylon has been doing a really good job thus far, of picking things up, and I think his attitude has been phenomenal, his work ethic has been great...If he keeps progressing, he'll be a real asset for us." Edwards should be able to contribute immediately for a franchise that has been in need of a big play receiver since Terrell Owens' departure. Even Brandon Lloyd didn't reach his full potential until he left the Bay Area for more rocky terrain with the Denver Broncos.
Even with Crabtree still inactive, he is now out of his walking boot, wearing regular sneakers on both feet. We could very well expect Crabtree to be back to full health by the start of the regular season, having missed his third consecutive preseason. If Crabtree is indeed healthy by then, expect Roman and Harbaugh to have no problem inserting him into the starting lineup.
"He's on top of everything mentally," Roman said about Crabtree. "Our meetings are very interactive and he's very much a part of those meetings." Edwards and Crabtree should be the projected starters when the games begin to matter on September 11th. The 49ers will face the Seattle Seahawks that day and the pair could make for a flashy debut against a questionable pass defense.
49ers fans, and certainly Frank Gore, have long awaited a solution to the conundrum that has plagued the wide receiver position in San Francisco. Lacking both the dynamic play and generally threatening presence from the receivers has resulted in more defenders in the box, rendering the Niners one-dimensional. In 2011, the ability and desire to go to the air on first down will be a very noticeable change from what we have seen in recent seasons.
The two could make for quite the tandem this year but the theme of uncertainty in San Francisco has kept them under the radar. Hopefully they can take advantage by proving the doubters wrong and finally produce at least one 1,000-yard receiver between the two of them. And if there are fireworks this year and there is a mutual happiness between player and organization, expect San Francisco to try and lockdown Edwards to a long-term deal that could see him retire as a 49er. Crabtree is still developing but could benefit tremendously from some consistency in the offense.
Last season, Crabtree had only 55 receptions for 741 yards and 6 scores; an improvement on his rookie campaign but still not worthy of a number one spot. With Braylon added to the mix, Crabtree will stop facing cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis, and will start competing against lower-tier defensive backs on a more regular basis. Considering a new system custom fitted for his skillset, less overwhelming competition and a breakout season yet to happen, Crabtree could blow up this year. He may not be the receiver between him and Edwards to gain 1,000 yards, but he could score double digit touchdowns for the first time in his career. Edwards' presence can truly be the difference maker; just look at Anquan Boldin's season averages with and without Larry Fitzgerald.
Edwards and Crabtree are going to be running precise route combinations where they're going to be asked to shield the defender from the ball and make the catch. And this new west coast offense could become a well-oiled machine if this potentially productive duo finds their groove early. The offense is tailor made for their particular abilities so the success rate should be considerably high. Watch the development of the tandem once the regular season begins and they are named the starters. It could be the beginning of a great one-two punch for years to come.
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