Not only will Michael Crabtree play in his first-ever NFL preseason game, Jim Harbaugh on Thursday said that Crabtree will be one of the starters Friday against the Vikings. The receiver's participation was in doubt after he injured his calf on the first day of training camp. But he returned to practice earlier this week and has been ramping up his participation over the last three days.
Another mild surprise is who the other starting wideout will be Friday night. Ted Ginn edged out newcomers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham for the start, although Harbaugh said that Moss and the others would see action. Ginn, Moss and Manningam are listed at the same receiver position on the 49ers' depth chart; Crabtree and Kyle Williams are the most prominent players listed at the other spot.
Ginn's start did not surprise quarterback Alex Smith, who said the receiver has had an excellent raining camp since coming back from a leg injury last month. "He's made a lot of plays with the ball in the air," Smith said. "He's made a lot of tough catches."
Crabtree missed the preseason his rookie year because of a dispute over his contract that lasted well into the regular season. He missed 2010 after suffering a neck injury early in training camp. He was returning from a broken foot last year. He said Tuesday that he thought he'd play, but noted that the starters probably wouldn't be in the game for long.
Harbaugh said that Williams also will see action. Asked if Williams also would return punts against Minnesota, Harbaugh said, "Most definitely."
Asked how long the starters would play, Harbaugh was characteristically vague. "We've got a number in mind," he said. "I'd rather not (pin) myself down to a number right now."
-- Matt Barrows