The 49ers' new wide receivers coach expects big things from his pupils this season, starting with Michael Crabtree. John Morton, who steps in for long-time receivers coach Jerry Sullivan this season, said that Crabtree is "going to be a phenomenal football player in this offense. And so is Josh Morgan. I think the sky's the limit for those guys."
Morton suggested that Jim Harbaugh's West Coast offense is a better fit for Crabtree's skill set than the power-based vertical passing attack that the 49ers have used in recent seasons. Crabtree does not have blazing speed and he is not particularly big. But he is sudden in and out of breaks and has quick hands.
When Crabtree finally got on the field following a lengthy contract dispute his rookie season, team officials expected him to be effective after the catch, one of his fortes at Texas Tech. Those yards-after-catch (YAC) totals have been good but certainly not as gaudy as expected. Last year, Crabtree ranked 51st among pass catchers with 298 YAC yards, according to statistics compiled by ESPN.com. By contrast, Morgan finished with 275 yards despite 11 fewer receptions.
Morton said one of the tenets of the West Coast offense was getting the ball in the receiver's hands as quickly as possible. "And there are certain routes that do that," he said. "It's quick routes or it's slants or shallow crosses and things where you get the ball in their hand real fast and let them use their God-given ability. I don't think they've had a chance to really do that yet from what I've seen on tape. I don't think I've seen a slant here run ever since ... since Terrell Owens left."
Like the team's other coaches, Morton is eager to finally get his hands on his players. He's watched plenty of tape of them but said it's the practices and meetings that are most revealing to a coach. "I don't know their personalities. I don't know who they are," he said. "Watching them on tape - that's all I can do."
Of course, there's one receiver Morton knows very well. Both he and Ronald Johnson arrived at USC the same year - they both hail from Michigan - and Morton was Johnson's biggest champion on draft day two months ago. Morton said that Johnson will have an advantage over other rookies because the routes in the playbook will be familiar to him.
Johnson is one of the few players who travelled for last week's offensive minicamp at San Jose State and who have stuck around afterward.
-- Matt Barrows