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Crabtree must add consistency to his game for 49ers to rise

Step your game up!

That's what San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh should tell No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree early in training camp.

Crabtree has shown flashes of brilliance during his first two seasons, but inconsistency and questions about a diva personality and suspect work ethic make you wonder if he will reach his immense potential.

The 49ers need Crabtree to make that leap in his third season so they can move forward in the NFC West.

Although Crabtree was taken 10th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, he was viewed as the best prospect by many evaluators. His stock dropped because he needed foot surgery, which kept him from working out prior to the draft.

Crabtree was expected to immediately serve as the 49ers' No.1 receiver, but his development was stalled due to a long contract impasse that kept him out of training camp and off the field early in his rookie season. The loss of that valuable practice time prevented him from fully assimilating to the pro game.

Despite the rocky start to his NFL career, Crabtree has the potential to anchor a passing game. He naturally tracks and adjusts to the ball, and his leaping ability allows him to go after the ball at the highest point. Crabtree is a fluid route runner with a keen sense of timing. He understands how to set up defenders with various releases and fakes, working hard to get open. He is a strong runner after the catch, with the strength and power to break arm tackles in the open field. Although he isn't regarded as a blazer, he shows special skills with the ball in his hands.

Given those attributes, it makes sense for Harbaugh to build his passing game around Crabtree. That is if his young star can show more consistency.

The 49ers' new offense is a hodgepodge of West Coast principles blended with some of the concepts Harbaugh learned from Lindy Infante, who coached Harbaugh with the Indianapolis Colts. The goal is to create isolated matchups for his top players, which will result in big plays.

With Crabtree capable of delivering yards after the catch, he will definitely see a host of passes as the 49ers' top option.

And if Harbaugh is to lead the 49ers to a division title in his first season, he will need Crabtree to go from good to great.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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