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49ers' Crabtree finally catching on

By Daniel Brown, San Jose Mercury News Published: December 23, 2012

Crabtree, though, was a complicated case. ”He'd say, ‘No, I'm not open. But if you throw it to me, I'll catch it anyway,'“?” Leach said. “And he was right. If there were three sets of hands in that area, it would be Crabtree's set of hands that would come down with the ball.

”I know it's a strange comparison, but he was a bit like Charles Barkley used to be in the key. He'd use that big (backside) to clear some space, and then use that athleticism and great hands to grab the ball.“

Now: Kaepernick, in trying to explain why Crabtree is his favorite target, shrugged, ”He's open.“ Asked to elaborate, the quarterback thought it over for a moment or two and added: ”He's the type of receiver where if you throw it close to him, he'll catch it.“

Their trust level has been particularly important when the 49ers need it most. Crabtree's 26 receptions on third down this season are tied for fourth in the NFL. He also ranks tied for second with four touchdowns on third down.

Walker said: ”When he's in the huddle, he'll say, ‘Look for me, I can make a play.' He's saying that every time he comes to the sideline, telling the coaches. We need somebody to speak up — and he's been doing it.“

Then: Leach blames Crabtree's reputation as a difficult personality on the receiver's shyness with the media. He said Crabtree is an intensely private person who can be hilarious and engaging — but only around those he trusts. Reporters? Forget it. Leach recalled with a laugh how outlets such as ESPN and Sports Illustrated used to descend upon Texas Tech when Crabtree was putting up headline-making numbers.

”And Michael would disappear,“ Leach said. ”He'd be right there, and if you turned your head just for a second he'd be gone. He just wasn't into that stuff.“

Now: After his second touchdown catch of the night against the Patriots, Crabtree could have done some chest-thumping. The 49ers had pulled ahead in a big game in harsh conditions against the Patriots, the NFL's measuring stick.

Instead, Crabtree, as he is known to do off the field, kept looking for a way to escape tight press coverage. Crabtree kept shouting for his quarterback to steal the spotlight. ”Come on, Kap!“ he shouted repeatedly. ”Where are you?“

Then: Leach said nothing brought out the best in Crabtree like being feeling slighted. He recalled how a Texas A&M cornerback, in advance of a game, called the receiver ”soft“ and ”overrated.“

And how did Crabtree respond?

”Oh, shoot. It was like a highlight reel,“ Leach said. ”He caught a bunch of balls. But even on running plays to the other side of the field, Crabtree just blocked this guy into the ground. I mean, he was escorting him off the field.“

Now: No one on the Seahawks has questioned Crabtree's ability or toughness. But much talk this week has centered on a Seattle secondary hailed as the most physical in the league.

Leach expects Crabtree to rise to the challenge.

”This is one of the most competitive guys I've ever been around,“ he said. ”You know what he hated most? He hated when the game was over.

“Whoever called him a ‘diva' never said more than two words to him, I guarantee you that.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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