So much has already been said about Michael Crabtree and his antics (if they can be called that) this offseason and offseason's past. There were quotes that the media and fans questioned, and then a questionable dedication to the Alex Smith-led mini-camp. Judging by Crabtree's output thus far in the NFL, it's fair to be overly critical of him, and as a fan, it's definitely understandable to want to see more from him. That being said, Smith was adamant that there are, in fact, no issues between the two and that really is as far as we can go with that particular discussion for the current time.
However, a thought occurs: why is the spotlight so firmly on Crabtree? Sure he was the team's first-round pick a couple seasons ago, but Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman's 2011 offense isn't going to be riding on the production of Crabtree. That offense will function through Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon, whatever fullback is starting, and a set of great tight ends in Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Nate Byham.
While it would be great if Crabtree can realize his potential and develop a chemistry with Smith, fully utilizing the west coast offense that seems so tailored to the tenth-overall pick ... it's not a requirement for the immediate success of this 49ers team. As mentioned, this will be a power-running team, but when it comes to receiving targets, Smith is not without options, not by a long shot. At this point, I'm going to be referencing this excellent piece from Eric Branch, so check that out as well.
Of course there's Vernon Davis, who undoubtedly has a connection going on with Smith. Throwing to Davis in 2010, Smith completed 40-of-64 passes for 588 yards and six touchdowns, good for a 124.0 quarterback rating. Before "Camp Alex", Davis was on Twitter, talking about how he couldn't wait to get out there onto the field and learn the playbook from Alex. The two are friends, and the two definitely connect on the football field. Alex definitely has the biggest rapport with Davis, and another stat from Branch reflects this: a 72.6 QB rating when throwing elsewhere.
In keeping with the tight ends, there's a guy like Delanie Walker, who is somebody that could probably start on another team. He's got great hands and great speed, and that's probably why Troy Smith had a better rating throwing to him, but he remains a reliable target for Alex. Smith boasted a 73.8 QB rating when throwing to Delanie, an under-utilized guy that all defenses would have to prepare for, if only he was used correctly. Roman and Harbaugh will use Walker, and they'll use him often, take that to the bank. Write it down.
Don't forget that Frank Gore was the team's leading receiver before he went down with an injury, and that also fits in line with the kind of offense that will be in place. Hunter didn't have a ton of receptions in college, but he had reliable hands when he was thrown to. There will be no Brian Westbrook this time around, which hurts the receiving talents of the running backs, to be sure, but Gore is more than capable.
Davis, Walker and Gore as primary targets in a west coast offense run by a guy who loves running and tight ends? That's all without even considering the other receiving talent on the team. Josh Morgan is a guy who is always improving, and Smith had a 103.6 rating when throwing to him in 2010. Morgan also had about 700 receiving yards overall, so he's filling his role nicely at this point, and will look to keep things rolling next season. His style suits essentially any offense, and he just remains a reliable guy at this point ... so long as it's not coming down like a punt.
Then you've got a guy like Dominique Zeigler who, if he gets the chance, will make an otherworldly effort to catch any pass thrown his way, jumping diving or toe-tapping as he needs. Then, there's a rookie by the name of Ronald Johnson, who projects to be a slot guy and, as far as reports are telling us, does nothing but eat, drink and sleep football. True, Johnson is a rookie and we must temper expectations, but that kind of dedication is just what the team and Alex Smith needs.
In short, you probably don't need to worry about the Smith-Crabtree connection for a couple reasons. For one, there might not be a problem at all and Crabtree certainly will have his best chance to succeed thus far in Harbaugh's offense and for two, there are plenty of guys to go out there and catch a football for the 49ers in 2011.