Loss of Crabtree Will Force Kaepernick to Grow

Niners' Quarterback will need to use a diverse group of receivers than the go-to Crabtree he relied on in 2012 season

By Doug Williams
|  Thursday, May 23, 2013  |  Updated 6:03 PM PDT
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Tight end Vernon Davis (left) may become a bigger option for Colin Kaepernick in 2013. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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In business management seminars, problems are never called problems. They are opportunities.

A crisis is simply a challenge that can spark greater creativity or growth.

If that is indeed the case, then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick now has a terrific opportunity.

With No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree now out of the 49ers’ picture for most (if not all) of the 2013 season with a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in team workouts this week, Kaepernick will need to grow out of his comfort zone. In 2012, Kaepernick’s first as a starter in the NFL, he came to depend on Crabtree as his go-to guy. Whenever he needed a big play down the field, he looked for Crabtree.

According to stats from ESPN.com, Kaepernick threw eight touchdown passes with one interception last season when targeting Crabtree. He had one TD pass with four interceptions when targeting other wide receivers. Kaepernick threw to Crabtree on 39.6 percent of his pass routes from Weeks 11-17, the No. 2 total in the NFL during that span, ESPN reported. Counting the postseason, Kaepernick threw to Crabtree on third down or in the red zone more than three times as often as he targeted any other 49ers player.

And Crabtree flourished once Kaepernick took over as quarterback from Alex Smith in November, posting his best season as a professional.

Now, however, Kaepernick will have to adjust.

Whether the 49ers braintrust of GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh decides to bring in another receiver to compensate for Crabtree’s absence or stay with the players now on the roster, Kaepernick will have to put his trust in his other wideouts and tight ends. He won’t have the safety net of Crabtree’s great route-running and fine hands. He’ll have to develop a better rapport with tight end Vernon Davis and learn to trust veteran Anquan Boldin.

Through organized team activities (OTAs) that began this week and into summer training camp and the exhibition season, he’ll have to find out which receivers among a group that includes A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Ricardo Lockette he can lock in on.

Just as the wideouts on the roster will have to step up to fill the void left by Crabtree, Kaepernick will have to step up to help those receivers improve their games.

“We have a lot of talent out here, a lot of great players,” Kaepernick told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group Wednesday, after news of Crabtree’s injury was reported. “It’s just: ‘Who’s going to step up and fill that role?’ ”

Kaepernick has spent a good portion of the offseason working with Jenkins and Lockette, and believes they can be contributors.

But it will be up to Kaepernick to sift through the roster to find the ones he can depend on; to widen his focus on every play to see opportunities that he may not have seen before when Crabtree was on the field because he trusted so much in Crabtree.

In the end, if Kaepernick and the receiving corps can adjust, the injury to Crabtree could be beneficial to both the quarterback and the team. It’s a new opportunity for Kaepernick to grow. And, when and if Crabtree returns after surgery and rehab, Kaepernick will be an even more effective quarterback.

For now, however, that’s just hypothetical. There is work to be done.

As Kaepernick told Inman, his task now is to get “more comfortable with my receivers.”

 

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