The 49ers tried to conserve receiver Michael Crabtree this week in the practices before Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Upon being medically cleared to play in early September after recovering from surgery to repair a left foot fracture, Crabtree took part in full practices leading up to the first game of the regular season. That approach didn't work too well.Crabtree played 13 snaps in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, then missed the following game, against the Dallas Cowboys, with soreness in his foot.This week, Crabtree was limited in practices but is listed as probable for against the Bengals. Coach Jim Harbaugh said Crabtree has a role in the 49ers' game plan.But what is that role?
Crabtree might not start the game, as Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn have been full participants in practices. Crabtree could be worked into the mix as the third-down slot receiver. Then, depending on how he looks, Crabtree could see more and more action, along with Morgan, in two-receiver formations.Braylon Edwards is expected to miss approximately a month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee.Kyle Williams, who played 16 snaps Sunday against the Cowboys, will be active. But he'll probably return to his role as the fourth man on a team that has not put more than three wideouts on the field at the same time this season.Here are a few more elements of worth watching in Sunday's game:Offensive plan: Aside from the multiple looks, including a dose of seven-linemen formations, the 49ers' offense has resembled the stodgy philosophy employed by former head coach Mike Singletary and ex-offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Quarterback Alex Smith has gotten off to an efficient beginning to the season. His 95.2 passer rating is 11th in the league, and his 70.5 completion percentage is tied for fourth. But the 49ers have not asked much from him. Smith has attempted 44 passes (31st in the league) and his 303 yards passing is 29th. Are the 49ers even capable of breaking out into a multi-receiver spread formation and attacking? "(It's) part of the scheme," Harbaugh said. "It's what we're working on. We've got the ability to do it, yes." The 49ers want to provide a threat through the air, so the Bengals can't afford to load the box to stop running back Frank Gore. But the 49ers, clearly, also want to protect Smith, who sustained a concussion last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Rookie backup Colin Kaepernick took more practice snaps this week in practice . . . just in case.Goldson's return: Safety Dashon Goldson got all the practice time this week at free safety, a strong indication he'll return to his accustomed starting role on defense. Goldson missed the final exhibition game and the first two games of the regular season with a knee injury. The 49ers need him to return to his playmaking form of 2009, when he recorded four interceptions, forced three fumbles and recorded two sacks. He might get some chances to take advantage of the inexperience at quarterback with Bengals rookie Andy Dalton making his third career start.Spencer in secondary: Veteran Shawntae Spencer has 72 career starts, but he's been on the field for just one snap of defense this season. He will likely see a lot more action Sunday, but how much? Carlos Rogers' starting job is secure. Tarell Brown started the 49ers' first two games at right cornerback with mixed results. Second-year player Tramaine Brock has worked as the 49ers' third cornerback. "You've got to remember, he (Spencer) got hurt very early on the second practice so he had zero training camp for us," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "So, his body, mind is still in training camp, physically and mentally."Conversion complete:Bruce Miller was the Conference USA defensive player of the year at Central Florida as a defensive end. But Miller was shocked when the 49ers drafted him in the seventh round . . . as a fullback. Miller will see his first action of the season on offense, as he takes over for Moran Norris, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with a fractured fibula. Miller said he has finally gotten accustomed to the idea of playing offense and, even, just saying the word "fullback." Said Miller, "Going through the preseason it was a little bit different. As we've made our way through it's gotten easier and easier." If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section. When I arrive in Cincinnati, I'll answer as many as possible. Thank you.