COHN: Working around loss of Michael Crabtree best 49ers can do

  • San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Tuesday was quite a day for the San Francisco 49ers, all things considered.

They received the good, approaching glorious, news that they will host the 2016 Super Bowl in their new stadium. And during a routine offseason practice, wide receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon.

Talk about bittersweet, or in this case, sweet bitter. The Super Bowl still stands, but Crabtree apparently isn't standing all that well and neither, frankly, are the 49ers. What does this injury mean to the team that would be a Super Bowl champion if it could be a Super Bowl champ?

Crabtree is their best wide receiver. No exceptions, arguments or harrumphs allowed. He is a top-10 wideout in the NFL, and last season was his breakout season — 85 catches, nine for touchdowns. His hands are gorgeous, were made to grab a football, and he is aggressive at going after an airborne ball. Not all wide receivers are.

As good as he was, Randy Moss did not fight fiercely for the football. Crabtree does. He is a guided missile in search of a ball and he fights with defensive backs for possession, fights hard.

The 49ers cannot possibly make up for the loss of Crabtree, a loss which could last all season or a significant part of the season. The 49ers can work around the loss of Crabtree, it's the best they can do.

Where do they stand?

Their other significant wide receiver is recently-acquired Anquan Boldin, who has Hall-of-Fame credentials and is a significant threat, although he will turn 33 next season and is not a fast runner. His skill set (a phrase NFL coaches love) duplicates Crabtree's. Both are tough, insistent, possession receivers. But neither is a burner. And that's OK if a team plays possession offense.

It's just that the 49ers want to use Colin Kaepernick's big arm and go deep at least some of the time — it's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Kaepernick rocket. If you want to abbreviate, it's a "Kaeperocket." And neither Crabtree nor Boldin is a receiver of downfield rockets. So before Crabtree got hurt, the Niners already had a problem of redundancy, and had no lethal deep threat even.

Now they have big trouble. Why do they have big trouble?

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