Can Michael Crabtree still make a difference?

He finally showed up for work 71 days late, wearing a cherry-red No. 15 jersey and a rather sheepish expression. On hand to greet him Wednesday was one of the largest media hordes to converge on 49ers headquarters in several years. Michael Crabtree, at last, has arrived. But is he here in time to really make a difference for a first-place 49ers team that's one play away from being 4-0 without him?

With few exceptions, rookie receivers in the NFL rarely make big impacts on their teams. Along with quarterback and defensive line, wide receiver is one of the most difficult positions for players to adapt to at the highest level of professional football, no matter how good they were in college.

And Crabtree, the No. 10 overall selection in this year's draft, isn't just any rookie receiver.

He's a rookie receiver who missed all of spring workouts after recovering from foot surgery, then missed 57 practices, four exhibition games and San Francisco's first four regular-season games before finally stepping on the field for his first full practice with the team.

Crabtree has a lot of catching up to do. But he feels he can do it in the same fashion he made catching passes look easy during his two record-setting seasons at Texas Tech.

"I'm coming in and I'm ready to play football," Crabtree said late Wednesday morning, about 10 hours after the final details were hammered out in the six-year deal he signed with the team. "I'm going to do the best job I can do. Anything coach asks me to do, whether it's blocking or running go routes for no reason, I'm doing it all just to win."

Crabtree didn't appear to win much monetarily from the lengthy contract impasse. He signed a six-year deal that reportedly has a minimum base value of $32 million and a maximum value of $40 million with $17 million in guaranteed money.

Crabtree's contract voids to five years if he has Pro Bowl seasons in two of the first four years. In that case, the base value of the deal would be $28 million. But since the possibility of Crabtree making the Pro Bowl this season is roughly zero percent, he'll have three seasons to make two Pro Bowls to make it a five-year pact.

The five-year terms for Crabtree's contract compare favorably to the deal signed by B.J. Raji, the rookie defensive tackle who was drafted just ahead of Crabtree in the No. 9 overall slot by the Green Bay Packers.

Raji's five-year deal was worth a maximum of $28.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed, while Crabtree would get $28 million with $17 million guaranteed.

Still, the contract Crabtree finally signed with the 49ers was basically the same deal he could have signed back in July and falls well short of the mark for which Crabtree and his agent, Eugene Parker, were aiming – the five-year, $38.25 million deal paid by the Oakland Raiders to Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick and first wide receiver selected in the draft.

When asked what he thought he'd gained by staying away from the team so long before signing, Crabtree said, "I'm just glad I'm past that part."

"I'm very humbled right now," he continued. "It's a very humbling experience. I feel like going through that, it made me look at the world a different way, look at my teammates a different way. It was just getting a chance to sit back and better myself as a person and as a player – as a teammate. Hopefully, it works out for the best."

The 49ers certainly have room in their passing game for Crabtree to make a contribution this season.

The team's starting wideouts – Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan – have combined for just 22 receptions through the first four games. In those four games, San Francisco wideouts had just one touchdown reception. The top target in the passing game plays tight end, where Vernon Davis leads the team with 17 receptions for 211 yards.

Crabtree's first chance to make his mark won't come until after the team's Oct. 18 bye week. He won't play in Sunday's key NFC matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.

"Hopefully, after the bye, Mike will be ready to go," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "Certainly, it's going to start small. A small role here and there, figuring out ways to get him on the field, and as he understands what it is that he needs to do and begins to understand the package, it's going to be a work in progress. But, I'm very excited about that, and we will find ways to get him on the field.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to have Mike on our team. I'm excited for him, and I'm excited for us. I think he's coming to a great place where there are a lot of great young men who will help him in the process of getting acclimated."

But Crabtree is going to have to pass a crash course in NFL Receiving 101 to truly become a factor in the 49ers' expected push toward the team's first NFC West championship since 2002.

First off, he has ahead of him a lot of talented receivers who have been with the program from the start this year. Besides Bruce and Morgan, newcomer Brandon Jones is now healthy from a shoulder injury that kept him out two months and veterans Arnaz Battle and Jason Hill are proven performers.

Crabtree still has to get accustomed to the speed of the pro game and master the concepts and nuances of a NFL scheme, which will be no easy task for a youngster that played in a spread passing offense in college.

History indicates it takes receiver prospects time to adjust to the NFL and make an immediate impact. Only three rookies have had 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the past 10 years, and even receivers who have gone on to great success in the league have produced pedestrian numbers as rookies.

And the 49ers' offense hasn't exactly been receiver-friendly. San Francisco enters Sunday's game ranked 28th in the NFL in passing offense.

Of course, that's a number that Crabtree conceivably can make better. It's why the team drafted him.

"Obviously, he's quite a bit behind where he would be if he got all that work," said quarterback Shaun Hill, who hadn't thrown one pass to Crabtree until Wednesday's practice. "There's an adjustment period for any rookie coming into the NFL.

"It's up to him now to get up to speed. Obviously, he was drafted in the position that he was because he's a good player. So, I think that as soon as he gets up to speed with everything, he'll be a good player on this level as well. If he comes in and works as hard as he can, just like the rest of us do, he'll be fine."

Singletary said the saga of Crabtree's contract impasse – the longest contract stalemate in team history by a rookie draft pick before he signed his deal – will not linger as both the 49ers and their newest young receiver move forward.

All Crabtree has to do now is go out and play – and perform.

"Everything that has been said, everything that has been done, all that other stuff – it is behind us," Singletary said. "Forget that. That's done. We are going forward. All you need to do is come in here and be who you are. What we saw on film in college, let's see that on film in the pros. It's as simple as that."



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