Who steps up in Crabtree’s absence?
Reports indicate Michael Crabtree had surgery on his torn Achilles Wednesday afternoon. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Guessing how long Michael Crabtree will be out of action with his freshly torn Achilles tendon is, of course, a fool’s game. Be a doctor, be a doctor on site, be the doctor who examines his leg, be the doctor who does the surgery –- then you can tell your friends how long this injury will hurt the 49ers.
That is, as soon as the 49ers get around to telling anyone who cares what anyone who cares already knows. That Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon.
And no, the available comparables from 2012, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, do not take into account the differences severity, healing rates, youth, or positional demands. Every contractually bound human is different, as any doctor will tell you.
Duration aside, though, Crabtree’s injury does indeed hurt them in that one significant way: He was Colin Kaepernick’s go-to guy, clearly, regularly, persistently. He targeted Crabtree 99 times, 35 times more than any other wide receiver, and we needn’t remind you of the last four downs of the Super Bowl.
And Kaepernick must now prepare for a new life with Anquan Boldin and A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham. Or he must learn to love tight end Vernon Davis, who was Kaepernick’s second-favorite choice but was still targeted less than half as often.
Kaepernick, of course, isn’t going to melt at this news. At least he shouldn’t. If football doesn’t teach you the meaning of “expendable,” nothing does. I mean, losing your best receiver in the first OTA -– now that could be construed as karma, or as an omen, or just as a statement about the silliness of OTAs.
Not that they’re going away, either. Quarterbacks would have to be kidnapped en masse before those went away. The NFL is marching inexorably toward the day when players are like account executives -– four weeks off a year, tops.
But enough brave new world, and back to the crummy current one. Crummy, at least, for head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose choices in response to the Crabtree news are the following:
1. He will either find him a new principal target.
2. He will develop one already on campus, one of the few things he has not yet accomplished in his time.
3. Or he will let Kaepernick run more often.
But therein lies the real potential problem –- a running Kaepernick is a vulnerable Kaepernick, and a vulnerable Kaepernick is why some people thought Alex Smith should be retained no matter what the turmoil.
That ship has, of course, sailed. Depth at quarterback is of course a lie anyway, because of the cost-prohibitive part.
It does, though, show Kaepernick that nothing is forever, or even next week. His meteoric rise to iconitude has been derailed for the second time (the first being that odd night in New Orleans), and he will have to grow into the job in a new way, stripped of his best/most reliable/favorite wide-out. He will have 15 weeks to learn how that is done, but Crabtrees do not grow on, well, you know.