San Francisco 49ers: Will Michael Crabtree Be a Star or Regress in 2011?

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San Francisco 49ers: Will Michael Crabtree Be a Star or Regress in 2011?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Michael Crabtree has a world of talent

Michael Crabtree was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 10 number ten pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Regarded as the top receiver in the draft that year, all were surprised when the Oakland Raiders passed on Crabtree and took Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 pick.

The early analysis is that the Raiders made a huge mistake by taking the unpolished speedster and passing on the more refined and productive Crabtree.

However, it hasn't been all roses for Crabtree either. He held out in a contract dispute in 2009, which caused him to miss training camp, the entire preseason and the first five regular season games.

When Crabtree finally joined the 49ers, he was force-fed certain plays in the playbook and inserted right into the starting lineup by then-head coach Mike Singletary. In the 11 games he played, Crabtree did well and had good stats.

Crabtree caught 48 passes for 625 yards and two touchdowns. These were very good numbers, especially considering he missed all of the 2009 training camp.

The 49ers were excited about the prospects for 2010. Crabtree would be able to attend all of the OTAs and training camp. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Crabtree began training camp and was injured very early on. His injuries lingered, and many were questioning Crabtree's work ethic and commitment.

The situation boiled over when team captain Vernon Davis and Crabtree got into a heated altercation toward the end of camp. Davis accused Crabtree of loafing, and the two had to be separated by teammates and the coaching staff.

Many of the 49er players confided that they were glad Davis got into Crabtree's face. He treated training camp like a joke, did not seem to work hard and never played a single preseason game.

When the regular season began, Crabtree pronounced himself fit, and Singletary made him a starter. Crabtree and quarterback Alex Smith had hardly practiced together, and it showed. They were out of sync and repeatedly missed connections, especially in the first few games.

Truth be told, several of Smith's 10 interceptions came on the two being out of sync. The two just never found a good rhythm the entire season. I attribute that to a lack of effort and practice put in by Crabtree more than anything else.

The 49ers were expecting a huge season from Crabtree in 2010, but he did not have the outstanding season that was hoped for. Crabtree caught 55 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns.

Crabtree's receptions per game actually fell from 4.4 in 2009 to 3.4 in 2010. He also had a poorer yards per game average of 46.3 in 2010, compared to 56.8 in 2009.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Vernon Davis tried to straighten Crabtree out last season

The other issue about Crabtree is his attitude. He is always prancing around the field after he makes a play, as if to tell the world "look at me." He also conveys the image that he thinks he is better than the other 49er players, even though he really has never accomplished anything in the NFL.

Crabtree's career is at an important point. He is entering his third season, and the 49ers are again expecting him to have a breakout year.

New 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh will install a much more open passing game than his predecessor, Mike Singletary. This should mean a lot more production from the main 49er targets Davis and Crabtree.

The key is whether Crabtree puts in the hard work necessary to learn the system and practices effectively with Alex Smith so the two start the season on the same page.

By all rights, Crabtree should have an excellent year under Harbaugh. However, there is one critical issue.

Harbaugh is not going to coddle Crabtree like Singletary did. If Crabtree acts like a prima donna, he will definitely hear it from his new head coach. Singletary let him get away with his poor practice habits and showboating attitude on the field during the games. I guarantee that Harbaugh will not.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Head coach Jim Harbaugh will not stand for lackadaisical play

If Crabtree continues to display a lazy approach during training camp and practices, Harbaugh will bench him. There is a strong potential for this relationship to become one of conflict.

Harbaugh recently praised Crabtree in the media and stressed what a great talent the kid was. I think he was trying to get Crabtree to work hard using positive motivation. However, if that fails and Crabtree falls back into a poor work ethic and prima donna attitude, Harbaugh will be all over him.

I actually think that Crabtree is immature and we will likely see a contentious situation arise at least once this coming season. It will be interesting to see how Crabtree reacts if this happens. 

If Crabtree buckles down and plays hard, he will be just fine. If he displays his previous lackadaisical attitude, he will be chastised and have to work hard to regain Harbaugh's respect.

I am a bit concerned already because Crabtree was working out on his own and had not been working with Alex Smith after Smith got the team together for a player-led gathering so they could all train together. The main goal for Smith was to begin helping the rest of the players learn the complex system that Harbaugh will run.

When Crabtree did show up, he practiced for one day but then sat out the last three complaining of sore feet because he had new cleats that were not broken in. This sounds like more of the same low work ethic that Crabtree appears to possess.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree must be on the same page

Crabtree seems to feel that if he's working out, running and lifting weights, that qualifies as working hard. The thing he apparently does not realize is that for a passing game to be successful, he needs to work repetitiously with his quarterback.

Crabtree has never done the necessary repetitions with any of his pro quarterbacks. In order to reach his potential and help the team the most, he will need to run all the routes multiple times to ensure he and Smith can connect.

Crabtree has the talent to be one of the top receivers in the league. It is truly up to him and how much effort he is willing to put in. He also needs to dispense with the "me first" attitude that rubs his teammates the wrong way. 

Time will tell if Crabtree possesses the maturity and drive to be a better player. He needs to realize that he must make a change to his current habits. The sky is the limit if he's willing to work, but the proverbial doghouse is also nearby if Crabtree continues to be a slacker.

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