The San Francisco 49ers passing game took a huge hit last season when wide received Michael Crabtree was sidelined with his Achilles tear. When he returned late in the season, his presence was felt fairly quickly, highlighted by his big playoff performance against the Green Bay Packers.
And yet, throughout Crabtree's return, it was pretty clear that he was missing an extra gear. He has never been a super speedy guy, but he was a little bit slower than normal on the field. We saw it on the 60-yard catch and run he had against the St. Louis Rams in his first game back. He caught the ball and moved up field, but didn't have the extra burst to escape his pursuers. His teammates gave him some good natured ribbing about it, but it was obviously something that was an issue late in the season.
This is not a shock by any means given how quickly he recovered from the Achilles injury. And it is one reason to be all the more excited about the passing game in 2014. Crabtree has had the full offseason to continue his recovery. He took part in the offseason workout program, but was held back from any 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work. Training camp is now in full swing, and all indications are that he is looking great. Colin Kaepernick spoke with the media after practice, and he mentioned what he has noticed:
"He’s a step or two quicker now," Kaepernick said. "He has a burst out of his routes. He has burst when he catches the ball. (He) looks really good out there."
"Even at the end of last season, he wasn’t 100 percent," Kaepernick said. "And he was making plays for us. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do, now that he’s 100 percent."
The 49ers have added weapons in the form of Stevie Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and Bruce Ellington. And maybe they get a bigger year from Vance McDonald. All that is great, but if we see 2012 Michael Crabtree, or even better, an improvement on 2012 Michael Crabtree, well, this offense could take a serious leap. We were excited about having Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin on the field at the same time last year, only it took a few months for that to happen. Now we might finally get to see the two of them at peak physical condition. I'm just a little bit excited about this.