Aldon Smith, Mario Manningham, Tank Carradine and Eric Wright are now in the mix for the 49ers for the last eight games of the season. One more big addition is yet to come.
Tomorrow, Nov. 6, marks 24 weeks since Michael Crabtree had surgery to repair his torn Achilles' tendon. In talking to several orthopedic surgeons, that is the absolute earliest they would expect a top-flight professional athlete to return to the field.
The 49ers will take a bit longer.
Given the parameters of the NFL's physically-unable-to-perform list, the latest Crabtree can begin practicing is Tuesday, Nov. 19, two days after the 49ers visit the New Orleans Saints. At that point, the team has a three-week window to activate Crabtree, who had surgery on his Achilles' on May 22. The full three weeks would be Dec. 9, one day after the team's rematch with the Seahawks at Candlestick Park. If they don't activate him at that point, Crabtree would be shut down for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
The team certainly could bring back Crabtree sooner than Dec. 9. Indeed, he's looked sharp in recent rehab sessions, and the 49ers may conclude that the battle with Seattle is so crucial that Crabtree must be available. But here are the reasons for taking the most cautious approach possible while still allowing him to play this season:
* Crabtree suffered a full tendon tear and plays a position that puts a lot of stress on that area of the body. Indeed, Crabtree has been diagnosed with two broken bones in his feet and a torn Achilles' since 2009. The Ravens' Terrell Suggs came back from an Achilles' tear in 5 ½ weeks last year. Suggs, however, only had a partial tear and plays outside linebacker, which may not have the level of stop-and-go stress a wideout puts on his feet and ankles.
* The 49ers took a cautious approach with running back Kendall Hunter, and it appears to have paid off well. Hunter also suffered a complete tear of his Achilles' - the injury has been described as worse than Crabtree's - on Nov. 25 and didn't start practicing until August. He's averaging 4.9 yards a carry this season, has three touchdowns and looks every bit as quick and fast as he did prior to the injury.
* The 49ers wideouts have struggled as a whole, but the team is on a five-game winning streak. That is, there's no reason to panic or rush the process. What's more, they get Manningham back this week.
General manager Trent Baalke said recently that Crabtree's timetable ultimately will hinge on his mind as much as his Achilles'. "When you're a running back or a receiver, you've got to stick that foot in the dirt," he said. "And you've got to do it at the velocity these guys have to do it at -- now the mind starts playing with you. So it's getting that confidence back."
After watching Colts' receiver T.Y. Hilton go nuts in the second half Sunday night and Alshon Jeffery have a very fine game for the Bears on Monday night, I posed this question on Twitter: Which wideout should the 49ers have taken in 2012 instead of A.J. Jenkins, Hilton of Jeffery?
Judging from the Twitter replies, Jeffery narrowly wins in the minds of the fans. And after watching the big-bodied receiver out-muscle Green Bay defensive backs for catches and do an excellent job run-blocking on the perimeter, it's hard to argue.
But in my opinion, Hilton - with his speed and elusiveness - would best complement the 49ers' play-action offense and would be the better fit on the team. After all, a speedy, smooth receiver was what the 49ers wanted in Jenkins. Hilton seems to have the toughness and eye-of-the-tiger-ness that Jenkins doesn't have. A bonus: he can return punts.
Questions about wide receivers, about the second half of the season, about life's greatest mysteries. I have answers ... all the answers. Join me for an 11 a.m. chat today. You supply the questions, I'll get the coffee. Www.sacbee.com/live.
-- Matt Barrows