What to expect from Michael Crabtree: Drawing coverage could be biggest gain

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

What should we expect from Michael Crabtree in his season debut?

The San Francisco 49ers could have wide receiver Michael Crabtree back in the lineup against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. If you haven't been living under a rock, then you know that already. The question now is what to expect of him in his first game back.

If you're to believe what the 49ers' coaches are saying (hah), then Crabtree will be eased back into the offense. Obviously, the 49ers will throw him in there and check on him periodically, but I fully expect Crabtree to shoulder a full load if he does, in fact, play. The 49ers don't seem like a team to bring a guy back who isn't 100 percent, and he's had three weeks with which to practice.

Earlier today, I talked about how the Rams have struggled when it comes to the secondary. Cortland Finnegan is out for the year, Janoris Jenkins is struggling against No. 1 receivers (of which both Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are, mind you) and the safeties ... let's not talk about them.

After the 49ers bested the Washington Redskins, I wrote how Mario Manningham's return caused the Redskins to adjust, and it led to solid games from Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Manningham managed to catch three passes in the first quarter alone, and while he only finished with four total receptions, his early flurry caused the Redskins to pull double coverage off of one or both of Boldin and Davis.

Crabtree's return, more than anything, should have that kind of effect. Maybe he's not actually 100 percent but he plays anyway. Maybe Jenkins has a strong day and shuts Crabtree down. In the end, what's most important is that Boldin, Davis and Manningham will all have, at the very least, one less player to worry about in the secondary.

In short -- getting open should be quite a bit easier for everyone involved. If we see Colin Kaepernick once again motivated to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes around the field, he will have the targets available. There's also the fact that Crabtree has been solid against the Rams in the past. In the dreaded tie game, Crabtree had five receptions for 70 yards with a touchdown, and in the other, Crabtree caught seven passes for 101 yards.

I don't know how many yards to expect from Crabtree himself at this point. I only know that his return will benefit everyone on the field.

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