In an attempt to rebuild a depleted receiving corps from 2011, the San Francisco 49ers added a number of wide receivers while letting others depart. One of three major acquisitions at the position is Hall of Fame candidate Randy Moss. Besides his unbelievable skill set, Moss has valuable experience to pass along to the younger players.
One player in particular that should be all ears is the 49ers' former 10th overall pick, Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree was the hype player of the 2009 NFL draft as the first-ever two-time NCAA Biletnikoff Award winner, which is annually bestowed upon the best receiver in college football. However, in his three seasons as a pro, Crabtree has yet to hit the 1,000-yard mark and hasn’t exactly taken the league by storm like many thought he might.
Going into his fourth year, Crabtree only has 12 receiving touchdowns to his name.
Since they have completely different physiques and styles as pass catchers, it’d be silly to infer that Crabtree can adopt Moss’ game just by playing alongside him. Crabtree will have to pay attention to the fine points that come with being a receiver, which Moss can relay to him through his experience of successes and failures.
On the field, a lot of things that Randy Moss has done in this league are unique to him. He was born to play the position, so him being amongst the best ever is no accident. Unfortunately for Crabtree, a few key things that made Moss who he is are not teachable.
You can’t teach speed. You can’t teach height. You can’t teach leaping ability.
If you were to go into a lab and create your own Frankenstein wide receiver, he’d probably look a lot like Moss.
The upside is the record-setting receiver will have some things to share about technique and game situations. Crabtree should be learning a lot of little things this offseason that help his overall game. There are a few shades Crabtree can take from Moss and incorporate into his game looking ahead to 2012.
Attacking the Football
While he is a good hands receiver, Crabtree is fairly nonaggressive when the football is in the air. In his fourth year, he could take the time this offseason needs to become a more aggressive receiver when it comes to attacking the football.
Randy Moss is among the best in NFL history at going up for the football at its highest point. When Moss leaps, that’s a commitment; that’s his football. Time and time again he has made eye-popping, aerodynamic catches over defenders.
And while Crabtree does not have the leaping ability of Moss, he can focus on timing his leaps when attacking the football. It’s more likely for passive receivers to drop balls, and Crabtree did have his share in 2011. If a receiver is nonchalant, he is more susceptible to an aggressive corner trying to make a play on the ball.
Moss can have Crabtree reaching over cornerbacks, being physical against double coverage and fearlessly going up for the football.
Technique at the Line of Scrimmage
The 49ers receivers have had problems getting open, but they are looking to turn that around this coming season.
A lot of San Francisco’s West Coast pass plays feature underneath routes that rely on the receivers getting an early release. When the Niners receivers would get jammed at the line, it prevented these plays from developing.
Moss can share technique tips with Crabtree on how to beat his man at the line of scrimmage.
Crabtree can better learn from Moss how to deceive with body language. Sometimes a shimmy of the shoulders and shake of the head can get a defensive back to lean one way, and then he’s beat. No. 15 should be proactive in mastering his craft at the line of scrimmage.
Additionally, good use of hands can be a receivers ally at the line. He needs to be faster; Crabtree needs to beat his defender to the punch by getting hands on him first. Quick hands off the snap will also help Crabtree bat down the defender’s attempts to jam him.
Moss likes to use his speed and get behind defensive backs by running around them. And because of his speed and ability to stretch the field, corners will often play off him. Crabtree on the other hand will need to use his hands and agility to help him win at the line of scrimmage.
Yards after Catch
A third major area where Moss may have knowledge to pass pertains to after the catch.
Moss is a dangerous receiver with the ball in his hands as well. When it comes to navigating through traffic, understanding angles and improving balance, Moss could have some techniques and tips in preparation.
This is vital for Crabtree who is expected to assume the split-end role as a possession receiver and chain-mover. If he can develop his YAC ability, Crabtree can become a real threat underneath while Randy Moss and Vernon Davis create problems 15-plus yards deep.
Making sure-handed catches underneath will also result in a lot of receptions and help Crabtree possibly see his first 1,000-yard season.
The presence of Randy Moss is not for nothing. Jim Harbaugh clearly saw great value in him on and off the field. As an experienced veteran of such a high caliber, his advice is invaluable for the young receiving corps the 49ers have in place. When Moss' one-year deal expires at the end of this season, Crabtree will remain and will be expected to lead the pack.
As a favor to himself and the team, Crabtree should soak up all the advice Moss has to offer. Michael Crabtree should ultimately become a better player this year, but it only matter if he can stay consistent. Crabtree should be trying to use Moss' presence to become a better receiver in the long term.