Moss could be big boost to Crabtree's career

Randy Moss drew a lot of attention in his debut with the 49ers last week, and Michael Crabtree certainly is one of the many observers who is watching the five-time All-Pro wide receiver closely. The presence of Moss alone promises to be a boon for the slow-starting career of Crabtree, the former No. 1 draft pick who figures to benefit from the veteran newcomer in more ways than one.

So far this offseason, it has been all about Randy. And the 49ers no doubt like the fact that Crabtree, their top wideout of the past two seasons, is taking note.

When the 49ers opened a workout to the media last week, everyone focused on Moss, who looked very much like his deadly, home-run hitting self. Moss moved with his characteristic long stride and highlighted the afternoon by catching a 50-yard bomb from quarterback Alex Smith.

After the voluntary practice, Moss escaped without talking to the media, saying his work was done and he was going home. But plenty of others spoke for him, including head coach Jim Harbaugh.

"Randy has been outstanding in every way. And it's neat to watch our players watch a guy like Randy that they've watched growing up," Harbaugh said.

During the workout, Moss was demonstrating some footwork for the younger players. Moss has also struck up a quick friendship with Crabtree, the embattled former top-round choice who all but disappeared in the playoffs last year.

Moss and Crabtree typically work out together in the early morning conditioning group and they compete against each other in drills.

The decorated all-star and the unproven upstart would project at this point as San Francisco's starting wide receivers for the upcoming 2012 season. That's probably how the 49ers would like to see things play out at the position.

To be sure, Crabtree can learn a lot from Moss, the five-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler who has Hall-of-Fame receiving numbers even if he never plays another down.

Like Moss – the 21st overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft – Crabtree entered the NFL as a first-rounder amid high expectations. But the 10th overall pick of the 2009 draft has only made a mild impact since in a San Francisco passing game that has been among the NFL's worst.

Crabtree had a promising showing as a rookie, catching 48 passes for 625 yards in 11 games after joining the team in October following an elongated wait during which he declined to sign his first NFL contract while seeking a better deal from the team.

Starting 15 games in 2010, Crabtree established himself as San Francisco's nominal No. 1 wideout, catching 55 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns. He finished second on the team in receptions, one catch behind tight end Vernon Davis.

Crabtree led the 49ers with 72 receptions for 874 yards in 15 games last season, but he disappeared in the playoffs, finishing with just 28 yards receiving on five catches. He had one catch for three yards in the NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants.

Crabtree didn't have many legitimate receiving threats besides Davis around him in the playoffs, and the Niners are hoping the presence of Moss will take both some pressure and attention off Crabtree and allow him more time and opportunities to develop into a consistent threat.

Safety Donte Whitner, who also works out in that group that includes Crabtree and Moss, said Moss looks as fast as ever, and Whitner should know. As a safety for the Bills during Moss' years with New England, Whitner saw Moss twice a season for four years.

"It really makes you nervous when you are over on his side or over the top of him," Whitner said. "You know a lot of safeties will be playing 20 to 30 yards past the line of scrimmage, which should open up the running game even more than last year. ... He's going to not only help us catching the football or taking the top off the defense, he's going to help get that extra guy out of the box and allow (the running backs) to pound it on the ground."

If Moss becomes a threat, he changes the calculus of the 49ers' offense, and that means more openings for Crabtree to make plays.

But Will Moss be engaged? His slide into mediocrity in 2010 began after his Patriots beat the Bengals in the opener. Moss then said that he wasn't appreciated in New England and that people in New England didn't want him to do well. The Patriots then traded him to the Vikings. He finished his disappointing 2010 season with the Titans.

A report out of New England recently said that Brady no longer trusted Moss to fight for passes toward the end of his Patriots' tenure.

In San Francisco, everyone is invested in Moss doing well, and he might not need to fight for Alex Smith's passes. As Whitner suggests, as long as Moss draws double teams then the rest of the offense is free to play their 10 players against the defense's nine.

Since the 49ers are only paying Moss $1.75 million in base salary, that's the only thing Moss might need to do.

And if he's consistently drawing those double teams, Crabtree will get to see what he can truly do against a defense that is gravitating toward him as San Francisco's only outside receiving threat.

Crabtree, for one, is eager to get started with Moss lining up on the other side of the offense from him.

"He was my favorite player since I started playing football. I would hate to say this, but he's like an older version of me," Crabtree said of Moss.

Niners notebook

JUST LIKE LAST YEAR, THE 49ERS have lost a draft pick for the season before the season even starts.

Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming, a fifth-round pick, tore his ACL during the first day of a three-day minicamp for rookies. Fleming was expected to compete for a spot on special teams and possibly be a third-down pass rusher.

Last year, cornerback Curtis Holcomb tore his Achilles tendon during a conditioning drill on the first day of training camp. The former seventh-round pick is expected to be fully recovered by training camp this year.

The 49ers signed six of their seven draft picks. The only one not to sign yet is top pick A.J. Jenkins.

SAINTS QUARTERBACK DREW BREES ENCOURAGED ALEX SMITH to see sports psychologist and former major league pitcher Tom House, who helped Smith with his mechanics.

However, Brees said House's advice on his mechanics was minimal and instead House helped Brees become more of a leader.

"I was too nice a guy, as a leader," Brees said. "I had this tendency that if people were doing things wrong, I would try to make up for it instead of calling them out. And that will burn you out."

Smith has already tried to shed his nice-guy image. He trash-talked the Saints last year in the divisional win and is starting to yell at his linemen.

THE 49ERS' NEW STADIUM PROJECT IS PROGRESSING rapidly near the team headquarters in Santa Clara, and the eventual home of the team will mark its first construction milestone on Monday morning.

At 11 a.m., 48 trucks from Central Concrete Supply Company will deliver 12-yard loads of fluid grout every 10 to 15 minutes and the first of 3,000-plus piles will be drilled to support the stadium and ensure a deep, secure foundation.

There are currently 250 workers on site. In addition to drilling piles, workers have been installing 30 miles of underground utilities, cabling and pipes.

WHITNER WANTED TO CLARIFY AN INCIDENT just in case observers got the wrong impression.

While cruising Santana Row, a popular San Jose section of bars and clubs, defensive end Ray McDonald recently was seen knocking down linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Whitner said it was a harmless slap fight.

"It might have looked like a fight, but it wasn't," Whitner said.

THE 49ERS CALLED UPON THE MEDIA to join a focus group about the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. Hall of Fame, which will be a part of the new stadium.

The plan is for a 15,000 square foot space to house 49ers memorabilia and act as a museum of the team's past, which will include the team's five Super Bowl trophies.

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