Mario Manningham today described what he and Michael Crabtree have endured this year as a "storm" - month after month of monotonous rehabilitation, pain and reward, advancements and setbacks following severe injuries.
"Just ups and downs ever since we got hurt," the 49ers receiver said. "We talk to each other about a couple of things, just trying to do what we've got to do to put this team in a position to be where we were at the end of the year (but) with different results."
The clouds started lifting for both players this week. Manningham and Crabtree both practiced Wednesday, signaling that reinforcements for what has been a lackluster 49ers wide-receiving corps so far this season are not far away. Crabtree finished first on the 49ers a year ago with 85 receptions for 1,105 receiving yards; Manningham was second among wide receivers with 42 catches for 449 yards.
Manningham, who is coming back from two torn knee ligaments suffered Dec. 23, is farther along than Crabtree and is likely to play in some capacity Sunday against the Panthers. He was not listed on Wednesday's injury report and practiced in full. "The knee I had surgery on is better than the other one," he said after practice. "So I'm not thinking about that when I'm out there."
His confidence is back, and the goal now is reestablishing a connection with Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback said that shouldn't be difficult.
"He's a receiver that's easy to throw to," Kaepernick said. "So it's not going to take much time for him to get back up to speed."
Crabtree tore his right Achilles' tendon on May 21. He wore a blue, non-contact jersey in practice and acknowledged he was easing his way back into his first practice. He didn't run routes at full speed and was noticeably cautious about leaping - and landing - for high passes.
Asked if running routes in practice was like riding a bike, Crabtree gave a description similar to Manningham's "I wouldn't say 'riding a bike,'" he said. "It's a roller coaster being away from the game for so long. I'm just happy to be out there."
Wednesday marked just 24 weeks since Crabtree's surgery to repair his Achilles'. Asked if he was surprised to see someone on the field so soon after such a serious injury, Jim Harbaugh said, no. After all, he's been watching Crabtree fight to get back on the field for half a year.
"I guess because you watch him day-to-day -- successful surgery, on track at every point, doing everything that he was asked to do by the doctors and all reports were really good," Harbaugh said.
Crabtree is one of the most laid back players on the team. But he admitted being amped up for his first practice since the injury occurred. "They had to calm me down," he said. "I was the first person out there (at practice) today, stretching, for no reason. I'm just excited to be back."
The 49ers cleared Crabtree for practice on Tuesday, which triggered a 21-day window for bringing him from the physically-unable-to-perform list to the 53-man roster. Crabtree said he started thinking about his eventual return to the field almost as soon as the injury happened.
But he said he would not circle a date - or a game - for his comeback on the calendar. "Not at all. I'm just going to go day by day, how I feel," he said. "Getting to circling dates and rushing yourself to be ready by then - I feel like I just need to go one day at a time."
-- Matt Barrows