The Achilles injury that Michael Crabtree suffered in the offseason was a big blow to the San Francisco 49ers.
He had finally entrenched himself as the number one wide receiver for the team. The 2013 season was looking like it would be a continuation of the success that Crabtree enjoyed in 2012 after Colin Kaepernick became the 49ers’ quarterback. More importantly, this was a contract year for a player that was breaking out at just the right time.
Having a quarterback that is not afraid to throw the ball in tight spots and gets the ball to his receivers in stride is a big reason why Crabtree had the breakout year. He was featured as a Z receiver and worked out a lot in the slot. Only one receiver averaged more yards after the catch from the slot position than Crabtree: Anquan Boldin.
It seems like every week there is a report coming out about the progression of Crabtree’s rehab process.
First it was, “there was no swelling so Crabtree was able to have surgery done right away. This will help speed up the rehab.”
The next thing every reporter wanted to mention was that Crabtree was in the gym. Now, the talk is about how he is on the sideline and not using any kind of device to assist his walking.
These different events should not be overdone. They are significant, but it could be a major distraction in the progression of the rehab process. It could develop a false sense of hope for a quicker return among the media and through them, the fans. There should not be any pressure for Crabtree to come back early. He needs to allow the process to take its course.
The fact that last season was the first season in which Crabtree was fully healthy shows what he is capable of doing when he is at full strength. The team needs to be sure not to have him return back onto the field too early. This could put him at risk of repeating the injury or over compensating for the Achilles and hurting something else.
This 49er team is expected to be in contention for the Super Bowl. Last year was so close and coincidentally, the last receiver targeted in the Super Bowl was Crabtree. He wanted nothing more than to pick up right where he left off. The second half of that game was a show put on by Crabtree and Kaepernick. Their chemistry was truly on display on the world stage.
As of now, Crabtree is on the injured reserve (IR) list with a designation that allows him to be activated after the sixth week of the season. This designation will give Crabtree some time to recover but still will rush the process.
Jim Harbaugh has said that Crabtree has done “everything that he was asked to do.”
He praised Crabtree for being dedicated to returning in 2013. He has stayed in the Bay Area to work with the 49ers’ medical staff. Harbaugh was also careful not to get anyone to expect the process to be rushed, but liked what the medical staff has told him.
“They feel very good about where he is right now, I wouldn’t categorize it as ahead of schedule because he’s just starting now to start moving on it. It’s been healing so far, but it looks great,” Harbaugh added. “That’s from the words of the doctors. Again, optimistic there and Michael did a tremendous job post-surgery.”
The recovery time really depends on the athlete. Take Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens, for instance. He injured his Achilles in the offseason and it took him six months to come back. He suffered the injury at the end of April and returned towards the end of October. When Suggs first was injured, he said that his goal was to make it back by six months. That was unlikely for an injury that typically takes a year to recover from.
Another thing to consider is that the receiver position requires a lot more cutting and change of direction than a defensive linemen. The speedy recovery that Suggs showed us should not be a reason to expect Crabtree to have a quick return. There is more to it than just getting the Achilles injury healed. Wide receivers do a lot of running so Crabtree will also need to get back into football shape.
John Harbaugh, the Ravens’ head coach stressed this with Suggs and made sure that everyone understood that his return didn’t mean that he would be back at full speed right away.
“Football shape will be a factor. As soon as he gets back on the field, it’s not like he will be back to Defensive Player of the Year form. We need to all understand that. Just give him a little space and let him kind of grow into this thing. The main thing we want to do is to make sure there is no setback, and he continues to get in shape and continues to get stronger.”
I am sure that Jim Harbaugh will be in contact with his brother John regarding how he handled the recovery of Suggs. Crabtree will feel the need to come back soon so that he can show that he is back healthy and can still play at a high level post injury. His value will be highest to the 49ers which could in turn have a factor in how the free agency process works.
Hopefully the two parties can work out a deal that will allow Crabtree to remain a 49er. He is the number one receiver on this team and a favorite target for the franchise quarterback Colin Kaeperinick.