49ers

Crabtree moves the chains

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Crabtree moves the chains

Michael Crabtree was too high a draft choice for a very long time. Now, it may turn out that he was taken too low. Its all in how you choose to define his job.

I would like to be thought of as a football player, the 49er wide receiver said after what might arguably be his best game as a pro, rather than just as one category.

That question came after the 49ers 27-19 win over Detroit on Sunday Night Football, when he asked yet again if he thought of himself as a possession receiver. He doesnt want to be considered a possession receiver, for the same reason that Alex Smith isnt crazy about game manager, but it isnt the terminology that matters. Its the definition.

Crabtree caught six of the seven balls thrown his way Sunday night, and though the 67 yards he gained doesnt ring any fantasy bells, he:

Helped set up the 49ers first touchdown drive with a 21-yard catch on a first-and-10 at the Lion 38.
Set up the first David Akers field goal with a short reception on a third-and-seven.
Set up the second field goal with a 13-yard catch on a second-and-four at the Detroit 33.
Set up the final touchdown with three third-down conversions, on third-and-seven, 14 and nine.

That wasnt possession receiving. That was receiving that extended or enhanced possessions. And if you think possession receiver is still a pejorative, well, youre just not going to get it ever.

Crabtree started his career in San Francisco slowly, losing two years to injury and offensive-challenged philosophies that never could figure out what his gifts were. He was drafted in the 10-spot in 2009, wasted two seasons in the Mike Singletary era, then bloomed in his way as Smith bloomed in his.

Now he is the teams second most important receiver behind Vernon Davis, and if he isnt Jerry Rice-esque, he does a pretty decent early career imitation of Fred Biletnikoff. Not so much stylistically, as Biletnikoff was stealthier, but as the solution to some bad down-and-distance predicaments.

In short, he moves chains five of his six catches went for first downs, and while he still fretted about the one he dropped on a third-and-five early in the second quarter, he more than made his bones on a cranky night with cranky opponents.

Crabtree had been scapegoated pretty well as either a bad pick (which he wasnt) or as a pick the 49ers didnt know what to do with (which he was). His toughness was questioned constantly, as injuries extended long past peoples frustration levels, and though he was never truly a bust, neither was he a home run.

But Harbaughs gift is that he knows how to size up talent and find what it can do, rather than curse it for what it cannot, and he found in Crabtree someone who could precise routes, catch balls in traffic and, well, move chains. He is not the home run hitter that makes your jaw drop, but he is the receiver every good team must have if it doesnt want to wear out its punters foot.

And there is no reason to think he cannot become something else in the years to come. He has already remade himself once, after all.

But for right now, he is a possession receiver in the best sense of the word. He more than merely fits an offense that works, even if it doesnt effervesce. He is becoming a pro at a job that should be considered sexier than it is, and if you must use the phrase, use it properly. Because possession is a team statistic, and frankly, someones got to do it.

For now, on this team and for the foreseeable future, that is Michael Crabtree. Maybe he can make it a phrase that can be used for good, the way Smith used game manager.

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

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AP

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

After five consecutive close losses and some reason for optimism, it all came crashing down for the 49ers on Sunday.

Rookie Trent Taylor fumbled a punt just one minute into the game. Ninety seconds later, the Dallas Cowboys scored.

And it was over.

The Cowboys steamrolled the 49ers, 40-10, providing a slap across the face to anyone who believed this rebuild of the franchise was trending consistently upward without any complications.

The team appeared to be moving along harmoniously. But on Sunday, there was an incident in which Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were seen jawing at each other. Things got heated. The optics in a home blowout loss were not good.

There are plenty of questions, and here are some of the questions from The Day After that were submitted on our Facebook page:

What is the philosophy? Are we trying to win or develop players? Cause it seems you can't do both? (Frank Vega)
The 49ers are definitely trying to develop players. They are also trying to evaluate players. They are looking to the future, and they are not deploying a win-at-all-cost approach this season. They do not want to win an extra game or two this season at the expense of possibly making the team worse for the future.

That is why the 49ers, almost invariably, went with younger players at any position in which there was competition . . . Eli Harold over Ahmad Brooks; Trent Taylor over Jeremy Kerley; Raheem Mostert over Tim Hightower; etc.

It’s why the 49ers made the decision two weeks ago to part ways with NaVorro Bowman, who had expressed dissatisfaction over his reduced role. Bowman was still the 49ers’ best linebacker at the time. But he would not have been on the team next year, so the decision was made to release Bowman now and go with the other less-accomplished players. (The Raiders, by the way, say 'Thank you.')

Rookie C.J. Beathard is now the starting quarterback. Cole Hikutini has moved into the No. 2 role at tight end behind fellow rookie George Kittle. Ahkello Witherspoon is being weaved into the action at cornerback, splitting time with Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson.

The 49ers did not want to create a mirage. They did not want to win any games this season that would be the result of a veteran rent-a-player approach. In that respect, the 49ers have succeeded. The 49ers will be picking near the top of every round in the 2018 draft.

The risk, of course, is that the young players get beaten down so badly that they lose their confidence and their edge.

What do you make of Eric Reid’s move to LB? Is his time with Niners nearing the end? (Peter Chan)
The 49ers no longer use a “nickel” defense. They go straight from their base defense to six defensive backs whenever the opposition puts more than two wide receivers on the field. It’s not a true linebacker position Reid is playing. It’s considered more of a “big nickel," designed to give the 49ers more speed on third downs to cover and run to the ball.

Reid is no longer a starter. What it shows is that the 49ers are sold on Jaquiski Tartt being a long-term answer for the 49ers secondary. The 49ers view Tartt and Jimmie Ward as the starters for 2018. All things being equal, Reid will have a chance to go somewhere else next season and be a starter.

The 49ers are not committed to re-signing him on a deal that extends beyond this season.

Is it a coincidence that the two worst teams in the NFL have the most cap space? (Gary Staebler)
That is no coincidence at all. It is the very reason the Cleveland Browns and 49ers are the only two winless teams in the NFL.

The Browns have $61.6 million in cap space. The 49ers are currently $61 million under the cap. Next year, with carryovers of unused space, the 49ers and Browns are projected to both have more than $117 million in cap room, according to Overthecap.com.

Bad teams do not draft well.

Teams that do not draft well, do not sign their draft picks to lucrative second contracts.

Therefore, teams that do not draft well cannot spend a large portion of their cap space to retain their own players because they have no good players worth retaining.

49ers snap count: Reid no longer starter; rookies see more time on offense

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USATI

49ers snap count: Reid no longer starter; rookies see more time on offense

Veteran safety Eric Reid returned from a knee injury that kept him out three games to discover he lost his starting job.

Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt has continued to serve as an every-down player for the 49ers’ defense. On Sunday, Reid played 48 snaps (64 percent) as the 49ers employed six defensive backs against the Dallas Cowboys three-receiver sets.

The 49ers had to adjust their sub package after nickel back K’Waun Williams sustained a hip injury. Rookie Adrian Colbert entered the game at safety with Jimmie Ward taking over Williams’ role. Colbert played 29 snaps.

Newly signed defensive linemen Leger Douzable and Tony McDaniel saw a lot of action in their 49ers debuts. Douzable played the third-most of any defensive lineman (behind Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner), seeing action on 47 of the team’s 75 snaps. McDaniel played 25 snaps.

On offense, the 49ers appear to be making a point to go with younger players. Rookie Cole Hikutini played 21 snaps, taking over as the No. 2 tight end over Garrett Celek and Logan Paulsen.

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, another undrafted rookie, played a season-high 23 snaps. On fourth-and-4 from the Dallas 28 early in the third quarter, coach Kyle Shanahan decided to go for it instead of kicking a 46-yard field goal. Bourne was the intended target. But he stumbled after a spin move from the slot, and C.J. Beathard’s pass was incomplete.

“As I was throwing the ball he tripped,” Beathard said. “If he hadn’t tripped on a DB’s feet or whatever happened there, it would’ve been a big play.”

Here is a look at the 49ers’ playing time on offense, defense and special teams:

OFFENSE
(66 plays)
Quarterback – C.J. Beathard 66
Running back – Carlos Hyde 51, Matt Breida 15
Wide receiver – Pierre Garçon 46, Trent Taylor 46, Marquise Goodwin 39, Aldrick Robinson 30, Kendrick Bourne 23
Tight end – George Kittle 31, Cole Hikutini 21, Garrett Celek 18, Logan Paulsen 11
Offensive line – Joe Staley 66, Daniel Kilgore 66, Laken Tomlinson 66, Brandon Fusco 52, Trent Brown 45, Garry Gilliam 20, Zane Beadles 14

DEFENSE
(75 plays)
Defensive line – Solomon Thomas 61, DeForest Buckner 50, Leger Douzable 47, Earl Mitchell 38, Xavier Cooper 26, D.J. Jones 25, Tony McDaniel 25, Elvis Dumervil 15
Linebacker – Reuben Foster 53, Eli Harold 31, Ray-Ray Armstrong 27, Brock Coyle 22, Dekoda Watson 9
Cornerback – Dontae Johnson 63, Rashard Robinson 51, Ahkello Witherspoon 35, K’Waun Williams 20
Safety – Jaquiski Tartt 75, Jimmie Ward 75, Eric Reid 48, Adrian Colbert 29

SPECIAL TEAMS
(24 plays)
Elijah Lee 21, Coyle 21, Raheem Mostert 16, Celek 15, Colbert 16, Witherspoon 15, Breida 14, Harold 12, Hikutini 12, Armstrong 10, Tartt 10, Bradley Pinion 9, Jones 8, R.Robinson 8, Ward 8, Johnson 7, Kyle Nelson 6, Buckner 6, Thomas 6, Paulsen 6, Reid 5, Mitchell 5, Douzable 4, A.Robinson 3, Taylor 3, Robbie Gould 2, Foster 2, Staley 2, Kilgore 2, Gilliam 2, Beadles 2, Tomlinson 1, Fusco 1, Brown 1, Dumervil 1, Watson 1, Williams 1

DID NOT PLAY
QB Brian Hoyer

INACTIVE
WR Victor Bolden
DB Dexter McCoil
FB Kyle Juszczyk (back)
LB Mark Nzeocha
LB Pita Taumoepenu
DL Aaron Lynch (calf)
OL Erik Magnuson