Michael Crabtree remains on schedule to return to action this season, and he looked surprisingly healthy before Wednesday's practice got underway. Crabtree, who tore his Achilles' tendon in May, spent the early part of the session - the only part open to reporters - going through low impact drills on a side field along with other injured and rehabilitating players like Marcus Lattimore, Tank Carradine, Eric Wright, etc.
Before that began, however, I watched him horsing around with some other players who were warming up before practice. There was a rope ladder on the field, and Crabtree went through that drill - it's similar to the old-fashioned tire drill where an athlete must rapidly step into a series of tires - quickly and with ease.
Crabtree is exactly 17 weeks removed from the surgery to repair his Achilles' tendon. The 49ers have been mum about his rehabilitation schedule, saying only they think he can play this year and that he has been on schedule to do so.
If he is following the timeline used by other orthopedic surgeons who have worked on high-level athletes, Crabtree is now in the two-month stage where he adds muscle mass that was lost immediately after the surgery. Here's the overall timeline:
* Two weeks after surgery: Patient is in a walking boot. Not long ago patients had to wear a plaster cast for six weeks after surgery. The boot, however, preserves feeling and range of motion in the ankle and leads to less atrophy of the calf muscle.
* Four to six weeks: Patient starts to put weight on the foot. For an elite athlete like Crabtree, this can start at four weeks and usually begins in a pool. At six- to eight weeks, patients might begin working on a stationary bike or an elliptical machine to maintain their fitness.
* 12 to 16 weeks: Patient can start working on sport-specific actions. Dr. Eric Giza said this is when patients regain proprioception - their body's ability to know where their limb is in space. "The brain is starting to forget that they had surgery, and they're getting that first step back," he said.
* 16 to 24 weeks: Despite an aggressive rehabilitation, patients still will lose muscle mass during the recovery. The last two months are about building that back, a process that can last a year after surgery.
Many fans have wondered whether Crabtree will be back for the Dec. 8 rematch with Seattle, which already looms as a pivotal contest for NFC West supremacy, and with it, a home-field advantage if the teams meet in the playoffs. The 24-week recovery period would put Crabtree back on the field on Nov. 6.
The 49ers are very cautious with injured players, especially when the injury is as severe as an Achilles' tear. Crabtree's was a complete tear - unlike Ravens' linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was back in five months - and they are unlikely to rush their star receiver into the lineup. But it's conceivable that they ramp up his workload so that he is on the field by early December.
-- Matt Barrows