Healthy Crabtree running better than ever

August 15, 2012, 10:33 pm
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SANTA CLARA -- Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers rates Michael Crabtree's hands up there among the best receivers in the game, comparable to those belonging to Larry Fitzgerald.Where Rogers has seen a noticeable improvement is with Crabtree's foot speed. Crabtree was healthy for the 49ers' entire offseason program. And it appears the eight practices he missed with a right calf strain was a mere speed bump.Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he agrees with Rogers that Crabtree is running much better than a year ago."He was playing last year on a bad wheel and battled his way through it," Roman said. "I think he's a lot healthier this year, and he certainly appears to be much quicker and faster. Another year under his belt from an experience standpoint is very important."Crabtree is listed as a 49ers starting receiver after catching a team-high 72 passes for 874 yards last season. The other starting position remains unsettled Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Ted Ginn currently listed atop the depth chart.RELATED: 49ers release second depth chart
Crabtree spoke to the media Wednesday for just the second time since the end of last season. Here is what he had to say:Q: Carlos Rogers talked about how you look faster. Is that a fair assessment?
Crabtree: "I've been in competition with Carlos since I started camp. I got a little tablet in my locker of how many days I've won, how many he's lost. So I'm keeping that tablet. I'm winning right now. I'll try to keep it like that."Q: Are you faster?
Crabtree: "It's really limited on the injury. You got a foot injury, of course you're not going to go to full speed, you can go fast enough to play. My feet are good right now. I'm out there running."Q: How do you determine who wins your battles with Carlos?
Crabtree: "Obviously, I got to catch every pass. I can't let him knock a ball down. We don't really face each other that much out there. It's whenever I'm up against him, I just count that as a win. He's good competition -- friendly competition -- really, just making each other better. Really, making the practice more enjoyable."Q: Do you give him a chance to dispute your tally, look over the running score and make an argument?
Crabtree: "Every day. It's on the board, so I write it down before I go out. I say I won already before I go out. It's all fun and games."Q: Do you keep tab on any other defensive back?
Crabtree: "No. Just with Carlos right now. He's the only one who's doing a lot of talking. We're just having fun out here."Q: Before your calf injury, did you train to improve your speed?
Crabtree: "Really, just working hard. We got a good training staff, a good strength and conditioning program out here. Those guys have been real good at working on things you really need, things you need to focus on like speed and power, quickness. I just use it."Q: Carlos thought you might have lost some weight?
Crabtree: "No, I weigh same. That's the crazy thing about it. I've probably gained a little more muscle. That's about it."Q: What excites you about your role in the offense?
Crabtree: "Everything. It's football. Every day I come out here I'm looking to do something new, not just the same old routes I've been doing the whole camp or last year or the year before that. Just really trying to do something new and try to fit in with the rest of the guys we have -- that's (Randy) Moss, Teddy (Ginn), (Mario) Manningham, K-Dub (Kyle Williams), all those guys are out here competing and going hard. I just really feel like I need to fit in and have fun. Where I fit in is make some plays, either inside or outside, just trying to make a play."Q: There was a lot of talk in the offseason about how the 49ers needed to add receivers. How did you react to that? Did you take that as a challenge to you personally?
Crabtree: "Not at all. It's a team. We've added running backs. We've added receivers. Quarterback is looking good. That's just how the game goes. I don't think one receiver is enough. You never know what's going to happen in the season. Guys go down. For instance, last season we had four or five guys in the beginning. At the end of the season, it was just me and Brett Swain and my guy, Joe Hastings. I think you need that depth at receiver."Q: Jim Harbaugh said a while ago that you have the best hands he's ever seen. Is there pressure now to live up to that hype?
Crabtree: "No, not at all. It's really just be yourself and go out and try to catch every pass. It's not too much pressure."Q: Do you have the best hands?
Crabtree: "I don't know. I just going to go out there and be me. If that's what the people say, that's what the people say. I'm just going to play."Q: How much work does it take to make catching a pass look effortless?
Crabtree: "It's really focus. Probably, most of the drops come from not focusing and not seeing the ball. That's really catching the ball. If you can't see the ball, you can't catch it. You take your eye off the ball, you're not going to catch it. It's really just focus."Q: Carlos said you have a unique ability to catch the ball without your eye on it. Is he wrong?
Crabtree: "I don't know what Carlos is saying, man. Carlos is saying all kinds of things. But I'm just practicing on catching the ball every day."Q: You're going back to Houston, where you played your first game in 2009. How have you changed since then?
Crabtree: "I've grown a lot. Just going on my fourth year, that's crazy. Just each year, I get better and better, stronger and stronger. Learning how to be a pro. Learning from guys. There's been a lot of talent around me since I've been here, especially at receiver. A lot of old guys, Isaac Bruce, those guys, that I take new things. If I can learn something from those guys and put it in my notepad, and I'm running with it."Q: The fact that you're practicing and you've played in an exhibition game, do you feel much further along than past years?
Crabtree: "It's just preseason. I feel like being around, I'm a step ahead. Not being injured, it's always a plus. I'm looking good."