Jim Harbaugh On Michael Crabtree's Hands: 'It’s Like A Frog, Tongue Squirts Out And Catches The Ball'

September 16, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) catches a pass in front of Detroit Lions cornerback Jacob Lacey (21) in the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Lions 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

During the offseason, Jim Harbaugh responded to a question about Michael Crabtree by describing him as having the best hands he has ever seen. That led to some scoffing in the media, which has decided that Coach Harbaugh is sufficiently prone to exaggeration that they elect to take his comments with a certain grain of salt.

Turns out he may have been on the money with regards to Michael Crabtree. While "best hands" will remain a fairly subjective debate, Crabtree showed off his high quality hands this past Sunday. His best plays came in the fourth quarter, but my favorite catch was probably his first catch. On the 49ers opening drive, Crabtree hauled in an Alex Smith pass on the sideline for a 17-yard gain. Although it was a catchable ball, Smith placed it a bit high out of the way of the defender and Crabtree went up and snatched it out of the air.

At one point in his Monday press conference, Jim Harbaugh was discussing the receivers drops when he moved over into the positive performances. His description of Crabtree was spot on from what we saw on Sunday:

And then Michael Crabtree again, just to talk about him and the way he catches the football. Starting the second play of the game, tremendous catch over there on the boundary. The one he plucked on the third and long to get the first down in the fourth quarter. He just, I don't know how else to describe it, it's like a frog, tongue squirsts out and catches the ball. It was frog-like. Tongue-like, the way he uses his hands. Nobody I'd rather have catching the ball than him.

Crabtree has found great success early in the season. Through two games he has caught 13 passes for 143 yards, and is on pace for 104 receptions and 1,144 yards. There is a lot of football left to be played, but it seems pretty apparent that he and Vernon Davis are Alex Smith's two main targets. They were each targeted seven times on Sunday, while Crabtree led the way with nine targets the week before.

The 49ers are frequently giving Crabtree opportunities to catch the ball in some space and make something happen after the catch. Thus far it has seen great success as he has been able to make plays with consistency through two weeks. 100 catches and 1,000+ yards would not be shocking outcomes given the way this offense is choosing to operate.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - September 17, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

"Sorry I'm late. I was getting a little something to eat. A little hungrier today than normal."

Did you have a $2 steak?

"No. It was a pretty good one."

Just looking over the game, where can you guys improve? What stood out to you?

"Well, quite a few things. We'll address that. I think some things that are correctable and improvable. And we'll look at those things as they relate to kicking game. Defensively, I thought it was an outstanding game up until the last drive. And the screen pass. That was one of our, probably worst plays since we've been there. Letting that get out for 50 something yards. And then some other things offensively that cost us some points in the game. But, again I just go back to the way our guys played, the toughness, the finish, the blocking, the tackling. Those critical things that you need to win a tough, bell-ringing game like this, we were able to get done. And a lot of people to point out. [TE] Delanie Walker only catches one ball in the game, but, had some magnificent blocks. [RB] Frank Gore, big block on the third down conversion that [WR] Michael Crabtree got when he caught the ball over the middle. Frank had a great block. So did [WR] Mario Manningham. And a lot of other things to highlight with the team and we will."

The last kick, WR Kyle Williams made a pretty nice sliding play, but should he have been in that position? Did you guys want to have that kind of alignment and leave it open to like what looked like a 50/50 ball?

"A 50/50 ball? Well, we had a head start on it for sure. Yeah, Kyle going back, getting the ball, we could have had a couple other guys that could have been there as well. So, some things we've got to address."

Did they not know the rules?

"The rules?"

Like some of the guys were kind of backing off from it?

"Yeah, one guy in particular was new out there. We had to substitute him into the game right at that point. So, anyway, we'll go over that with the guys."

Your view of the pass interference, what was your take on that? Accurate? I don't know. On the replay, it didn't look like it. But, I was curious.

"Which one was that?"

On CB Chris Culliver's pass interference, what was your view of that play and your take on that?

"My view is that he played it very well."

You were a very good road team last year. When the 49ers had their great teams in the late 80s, they seemed to win all the time on the road. Is that a mark? In other words, is it because the team is good? Or because they don't let all the distractions bother them? People are always talking about going East three hours, the heat, all that stuff. Is it just a matter of having people who can handle all that, or is the fact that they're just so much better than the other team?

"Well, I think those are real factors. Going east, travelling. The affect that that has on you, on your body, those things are real. But, I think the greater share is being a good team. Being the best team that you can be. Packing your defense for those road trips, very important."

It isn't quite as bad obviously that you are two-hour time change than three. Do you find any difference at all in one hour? It just seems that three hours really make a huge difference if you go to New York, or if you go to Boston, or Philadelphia or something like that. As opposed to Chicago and Minneapolis.

"Right. Well, there have been plenty of studies done. A lot of sleep studies, we've looked at quite a few of them. And you try to do what you can to have the players be in the best shape they can be in physically and emotionally. And get their rest, eat right, hydration. I'm not going to go into all of them."

After we talked to you last night Michael Crabtree came in and he said it was his birthday and he had to address the team the other day. And he told the offensive guys, we've got to keep up with our defense. We need to match them. Do you like knowing that he's a vocal, he's doing a lot of that vocal stuff to get his unit going?

"Yes. He talked to the team on his birthday and it was a real strong message, real strong message. Team-oriented message. And Michael is a great leader in my opinion. And he's a kind of guy who fixes things behind the scenes. He's not for public consumption. And then the way he plays. You can tell he's about us. Not one of those, it's about himself kind of guys. And yeah, all those guys that define a football player. Great in the locker room, smart, great study habits. Tough, has talent. Can do it when the chips are down. Can suck it up and get the job done for you. He's a football player."

Behind the scenes, just one example for us?

"That's behind the scenes [laughs]."

He has said that he bulked up a bit during the offseason. He looks bigger than he has the previous years. Do you see that reflected in his game? And he was able to fight for a couple first downs at the end of the game yesterday. Is that evidence to you that he's a sturdier, bigger, stronger player this year?

"Think those things. He's improved physically. I think he's got a confidence in his physical game and being able to run all day and practices extremely hard. He does the same thing in practice. He's been doing it this entire offseason."

How has QB Alex Smith matured and progressed when it comes to choosing between two plays at the line of scrimmage?

"Well, like we talked about, he's an expert in this system. And to accomplish that in just a year speaks volumes. And how's he matured? He's just intellectually matured. He's got a lot to work with because he's a really intelligent guy. But, just the way he works at it. He'll be up in the building until 7, 8, 9'oclock at night and constantly grinding on the mental part of the game."

Could you put more on him now than you could at this point last year?

"I think we can with everybody on our squad. It's not just Alex who didn't have the same coordinator in successive years with seven or eight different guys. That's multiplied, or at least there's addition here with every guy on the offense. So, I think you could say that for everybody. There's more that we can keep doing and hopefully keep growing."

What was your take after watching the film on the dropped passes last night? Was it just kind of one of those days, or were there reasons that you saw?

"Well, it was one guy and then another guy and then another guy and another guy. Everybody kind of just had one. And they were costly because it cost us some points on a couple of those occasions. And you talk to Alex and he'd tell you that I wish the ball was a foot higher, or six inches tighter to the receiver. But, just attributed to anything, no, because we had some tremendous catches in the game. But, there was just some bad luck. There were a few instances where the luck just wasn't with us. But, we had some great route running. Again Mario Manningham just seemed like every time we got a drive going and put points on board, he made a play. [WR] Randy [Moss] was very involved. Great route in the red zone and Alex made a terrific throw on that post. And great surge off the line by Randy, beat his man and got the interference call that led the points. Kyle was very effective in the game. Hustled like the dickens. And then Michael Crabtree again, just to talk about him and the way he catches the football. Starting the second play of the game, tremendous catch over there on the boundary. The one he plucked on the third and long to get the first down in the fourth quarter. He just, I don't know how else to describe it, it's like a frog, tongue squirsts out and catches the ball. It was frog-like. Tongue-like, the way he uses his hands. Nobody I'd rather have catching the ball than him."

Besides the obvious, what made that 50-yard pass to Lions RB Joique Bell so disappointing?

"That we got out-we were really in great call. If you knew they were going to run a screen, [defensive coordinator] Vic [Fangio] would call the three-man pressure and drop eight and everybody converge up on the screen and get it stopped for a short gain. But, we got out-leveraged. Instead of being inside out with the linebackers, we were outside in with both the linebackers and it got out on us."

How is LB Aldon Smith progressing as an every-down linebacker? And were you pleased with how he set the edge against the run?

"We all were really pleased with Aldon in this game. Everybody played very well, very good on defense. You could say everybody had a pretty darn good game defensively. And team defense, we were pleased like heck that we did the job on Detroit the way we did for the entire game up until the last drive. Highlight a few guys, you could highlight [S] Dashon Goldson. Had a terrific game. Got the great interception, wasreal physical on the tackling and the coverage was great. [DT] Justin Smith, right there along with Dashon. And then, probably the next guy you'd highlight would be Aldon. He had a very good game."

Could you appreciate the stretch you went without a turnover. I know you had one yesterday, but how long you'd gone without one?

"Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah. I think I can. That's tough to do. Most teams are usually accustomed to at least one turnover a game. I you had the average though. You're great if you don't have any. You sure as heck don't want to have more than one. But, if you really averaged it all out, even our 10 turnovers last year in 16 something games. That's a little less than one. That's pretty darn good. And then to go consecutive games, multiple games without having a turnover, that's fantastic."

Randy has always been "the guy" everywhere he's been. How has he adapted to being maybe not a guy who's on the field all the time when there's two receivers out there and getting kind of a limited amount of snaps during the course of a game?

"Nobody around here ever gets caught up with ‘the guy' terminology. It's about us. It's about the team. And there's no evidence that he's concerned about having ‘the guy' tag. He knows football. He knows that the team that plays best is going to win the game. And he's been about that."

Do you feel like it will ebb and flow? Playing time will evolve over the course of the season? Or will these first two games kind of be the template for how you guys move forward?

"There's a lot of possibilities out there and you'd like to have your opponent think about all those different possibilities. But, that's what I would say to that."

Why was QB Scott Tolzien active for the game?

"We were in a position to do it. I think it's me, I worry about that. I'd worry about the-didn't we talk about this? We didn't talk about this? Maybe I was talking to somebody else about that [laughs]."

Holding I think you mentioned.

"Holding and I think every team should have three quarterbacks when you go into a game. You'd hate to see the game go to, if you've got both your quarterbacks hurt in a game. Any kind of blow to the head, there going to take those guys out, take them to the locker room, and they're going to be out. And then you're one away from a real disaster not having a third quarterback. I thought that was a real good rule when they let you dress three. Give you an extra spot for a third quarterback. I think it's good for the game. And then you go into it every week like, we have to have our plan if we don't have our third quarterback dressed. We work on that, we do that, we address it. But, you get nervous knowing it could be a tight game. Do we have a third quarterback? But, it's a dilemma every week and most teams won't do it. And we don't usually dress three, but felt we were in a position to have that luxury this week.

Is that going to change from week-to-week?

"Yeah. A lot will depend on the personnel we have available. That's something that could change each week. Normally we'll be dressing two because you need every single guy. The likelihood -you start playing the percentages, the percentages are, you're not going to get to your third quarterback. I think that happens maybe three times a year on average, that two quarterbacks get hurt in a game. But you'd hate to be that game. It's going to happen to somebody."

Was it with the physical nature of that Lions defense too?

"It was more the position we were in. We felt like we had the proper numbers at each position and everybody was good and full strength and raring to go."

So many teams start trying to run the ball against your defense and they kind of give up in that first quarter. Were you surprised how patient or how much the Lions tried to stay balanced against you guys?

"Not surprised. I think they had good looks to run the ball. They had good run looks and we were giving 81, [Lions WR] Calvin Johnson a lot of attention and that creates some good run looks. They were trying to take advantage of that and that's to their credit. But we weren't going to get discouraged by a few five, six, ten yard runs and get away from what our plan was, because that guy is just so dangerous and can beat you. The quarterback was throwing it well, and that was our plan. Everybody has got their plan, and they can do whatever they want to do. We come in with our plan and you've got to be ready to adjust. I thought our guys, even though they were good run looks for Detroit, were able to get it shutdown too, at the same time."

Are you at the point now with RB Brandon Jacobs and WR Ted Ginn Jr. where even when they're healthy, it's going to be, they're going to have to show some stuff on the practice field to really carve out a role on game day for them, because of the way of the guys have filled in for them have played?

"Yeah that's part true. I only say part true, because we know what those guys can do, we know what their role is. It is carved out. But at the same time, you're going to play the guys each week, that you feel give you the best chance to win and who's practicing better, who's ultimately going to play better in a game. You also need to see that on the practice field, sure."

What was the Muhammad Ali story that your dad shared with you last week and we talked about?

"When we were talking last week? I said we were going to share that with the fellas?"

You had mentioned that you liked the Muhammad Ali story he gave you.

"There were two great ones. Did I mention that my dad met Muhammad Ali, last week in Baltimore? Yeah, Muhammad Ali went to the Ravens practice and was there with their team and my dad got to be with him and watch practice with Muhammad Ali. Met Muhammad's wife, sat in a golf cart watching the practice. My dad called me right away and said, ‘I couldn't talk around him, I was just so - it was one of the best, best things that's ever happened to me in my life, being around him'. So I was like well give me some stories, I've got to hear some stories. So he said one that Muhammad's wife told my dad, was that when Muhammad was young and going to school and training and everything, he had to take the bus. to school, every day, two and half miles with the other kids. Rain, sleet, snow, humidity of the Louisville Springs and Falls, that Muhammad would walk to the bus stop, all the kids would get on the bus and then Muhammad would run. Follow the bus to school, every single day. Everybody thought he was crazy. Everybody thought this guy is crazy. That was one story. The other story was when Muhammad was getting ready to fight Sonny Liston in Miami, in '64 for the heavyweight title. The hotel that the fight was at and that Muhammad had to train in, didn't allow blacks at that time, to stay at that hotel. It was a segregated hotel. So Muhammad had to stay five miles away from the hotel and they had him drive in every day to train. He refused to drive in and he ran the five miles. Every step of the way, he didn't put up a fuss, he didn't complain about it, but every step of that run he was telling himself that somebody is going to pay for this and it was going to be Sonny Liston."

I'm impressed you know the year and everything else. I saw that on TV, that's a few years ago.

"We grew up with a lot of Muhammad Ali stories. We all think in the Harbaugh family hat Muhammad Ali is the greatest sports competitor this world has ever known. We've seen many of the clips, we've read all of the stories, but hadn't heard those two stories, that was great. The sign up above the quote board, that's our sign, we brought that in and put it up there. We just have the greatest, profound respect for Muhammad Ali."

When did you relay those stories to your players?

"Tuesday. The first chance we saw the squad."

What was the take home message? I mean obviously I get kind of what those stories were about, but for you what was the take home message that you relayed to the team about those stories?

"I think that's one of the interesting things we do here. We don't break it down, Barney style at the end of a story and try to tell people what we think the message is or what the message should be. We just kind of put it there. These are smart guys, they relate to it in the ways that they relate to it. And sometimes it's very different. I love getting the feedback of what message they took from it. What they had in their past. Boy, about every guy in there has had to overcome something, or was wronged. But I really like to just to put it out there and get their feedback back."

Speaking of famous people, what's the backstory with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn?

"They were here filming a movie. Owen Wilson called up and said he wanted to come to the game and we were just thrilled that he would want to do that. It was great being around those two extraordinary people, but they're just normal people too, and we just really like that. It's just been kind of our culture, we like being around those kind of guys whether it's a Navy SEAL who's name we can't mention or Colonel Jim Minnick of the United States Marine Corps, or General Dempsey, Sergeant Skywalker, etcetera. We like being around those kind of extraordinary kind of guys. But they're also normal guys, it's great. We all get a great feeling meeting those kind of guys. Hopefully someday we can get Willie Mays here and Muhammad Ali. That would be big. But those two guys are great guys, and everybody in the world loves those two guys. They're awesome. It was great to see them. It was an honor. Let me put it this way, all those guys we mentioned, General Dempsey and Jim Minnick and someday Willie Mays and someday Muhammad Ali, and Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. It's an honor for us to share our sideline with them."

Have you invited Mays?

"Been working, yes. We've been working on that. I don't want anything from him. I just want to go up to him and shake his hand and tell him that me and my dad think he's the greatest baseball player in the history of the game. That's all I really want to do. Someday I'll be able to, hopefully."

Your take on Stanford?

"Great win. Great win, really, whose got it better than us? Nobody. Alright thanks a lot."

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