Without Crabtree, spotlight on Kaepernick

Kaepernick on Crabtree: 'He's going to be back'

Without Crabtree, spotlight on Kaepernick
May 28, 2013, 8:15 am
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Colin Kaepernick will draw much of the attention in 2013 while his favorite target recovers from Achilles surgery. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

The 49ers return to the practice field Tuesday in Santa Clara, as the reality sets in they will be without No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree for most of the regular season.

It was a crushing blow for the organization to lose its first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens. Crabtree underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn right Achilles tendon. His rehab is expected to keep him sidelined for approximately six months.

The good news is it's highly debatable whether the loss of a wide receiver should have a major impact on a team's season.

Let's think back to 1997. In the 49ers' first game of the year, Jerry Rice sustained a torn ACL against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rice was not only the 49ers' best wide receiver, he was the best wide receiver in the NFL. But the 49ers, who went 12-4 the previous season with a healthy Rice, won 11 games in a row without Rice and finished at 13-3.

Terrell Owens, in his second season, and J.J. Stokes were the leading receivers on a team that eventually lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship game.

The quarterback is the key; not the wide receiver who was lost.

Steve Young kept things going without his top receiver. And that's what Colin Kaepernick must do this season -- in his first full year as the 49ers' starter.

Evidence seems to suggest that No. 1 receiver has very little impact on the bottom line.

Crabtree was one of 20 players in the NFL to amass 1,000 yards or more receiving last season. Eleven of those players were on teams that did not even advance to the playoffs.

Just think about Tom Brady. Until Wes Welker and Randy Moss came to the New England Patriots, Brady never had a true No. 1 receiver. He won his three Super Bowls with a different No. 1 receiver each time: Troy Brown, Deion Branch and David Givens.

In 2010, the San Diego Chargers' franchise player, Vincent Jackson, sat out most of the season in a contract dispute. What happened that season? The Chargers still ranked No. 2 in the NFL in passing, and Philip Rivers had a 101.9 passer rating.

There were years in which the Indianapolis Colts' corps of wide receivers was decimated by injuries, and the offense just kept putting up big numbers with Peyton Manning.

Jim Harbaugh said last week he's excited to see which young receivers will emerge after Crabtree's injury. A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette and rookie Quinton Patton are some of the talented young guys on the roster.

And let's not forget, the 49ers still have the wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, who led the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in receptions and receiving yards in the regular season and postseason.

So as much as the story a week ago was about Crabtree, it's up to Kaepernick to make sure the 49ers do not miss him.

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