49ers all in on 'next man up' philosophy

Harbaugh on Crabtree: 'It was completely torn'

49ers all in on 'next man up' philosophy
May 22, 2013, 3:45 pm
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A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette are both prime candidates for playing time with Michael Crabtree sidelined. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick are both well versed in the 'injuries open up opportunities' narrative.

Alex Smith’s concussion on Nov. 11 paved the way for Harbaugh to hand the starting quarterback job to Kaepernick, who emerged as a breakout NFL star as he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

While Michael Crabtree will be sidelined until November at the earliest as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, both Harbaugh and Kaepernick displayed more confidence than concern Wednesday after practice.

[RELATED: Crabtree out with torn Achilles]

“We have a lot of talent out here,” Kaepernick said, echoing his head coach’s sentiments. “We have a lot of great players. It’s just who’s going to step up and fill that role now.”

Minutes after Kaepernick and Harbaugh dropped the “step up” line, Patrick Willis followed suit.

“It’s an opportunity for someone else to step up,” he said.

[RATTO: Crabtree injury leaves Harbaugh with three options]

In Kaepernick’s 10 starts between the regular season and playoffs, he targeted Crabtree 92 times, compared to just 39 passes thrown to Vernon Davis and Randy Moss.

When asked why he looked Crabtree’s way so often, Kaepernick took a page from his head coach’s media playbook and kept it simple.

“He got open. That’s what you want from a receiver.”

Kaepernick was equally complimentary of two 49ers receivers who stand to benefit the most from Crabtree’s injury. A.J. Jenkins, the 2012 first-round draft pick who didn’t catch a pass his rookie season, and Ricardo Lockette, an undrafted free agent who has been Kaepernick’s roommate since he joined the 49ers’ practice squad in September, could be leaned on heavily in Crabtree’s absence.

“They’re great players that have been working hard,” Kaepernick said after throwing passes to both Jenkins and Lockette in 7-on-7 drills during Wednesday’s practice.

While Kaepernick toes Harbaugh’s ‘next man up’ line about the in-house talent, he was very vocal about his appreciation for veteran receiver Randy Moss’ leadership last season. But, like Harbaugh, he wouldn’t comment on the possibility of bringing the future Hall of Famer back in the fold.

[RELATED: Replacing Crabtree not a one-man job]

“That’s not my decision,” he said.