Last season, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree made a fairly impressive return from a torn Achilles tendon. Crabtree suffered the injury in late May, and was back on the field by December 1. Over his eight regular season and postseason games, Crabtree had 34 receptions for 487 yards and a touchdown. While he was making plays for the team, it was clear he was missing that extra gear. It was most notable on his first big play back, but even as he improved each week, he was still not quite at 100 percent.
It looks like he might just be there for the start of the 2014 season. Crabtree did not take part in 11-on-11 drills at minicamp, but he has been doing work in smaller drills, and his teammates see the explosiveness returning. Matt Barrows and Cam Inman both posted some player quotations discussing Crabtree:
Colin Kaepernick: "At the end of last year he still wasn’t 100 percent. He has a lot more burst to him now. Looks really good."
Anquan Boldin: "He’s a lot more explosive. I see him being back to his old self. He’s taking things slowly. We want to make sure he goes into the season healthy."
Crabtree is not necessarily a fast player, but his footwork and explosiveness is what helped him put together a fantastic 2012 season. His footwork is a significant strength, but there's an explosiveness in tight spaces that has been a big part of Crabtree's skillset. The Achilles injury slowed that in 2013. He made a solid comeback from the injury, but it was always going to take more time to get back to 100 percent. You could look at Kendall Hunter last year as another guy who likely was slowed early on by his Achilles injury. That is one reason I think we could see some big work from Hunter in 2014.
The 49ers open training camp on July 23, have their first preseason game on August 7, and open the regular season on September 7. While I could see Crabtree getting a series here or there, I would not expect to see much of Crabtree in preseason games. He'll get plenty of work in training camp practices, but I don't expect to see a lot of him or Anquan Boldin in preseason games.
The 49ers have a lot of depth to consider, so that is of some benefit, but even without the crazy depth, there is not a ton to be gained in the preseason for the top two receivers. They've worked with Colin Kaepernick enough to know what works well for them. Now it's just a matter of getting to the regular season at 100 percent. If they can do that, this group could do some great things in 2014.