Josh Morgan got in Michael Crabtree‘s face to celebrate after a long reception that led to a touchdown during last week’s victory over Jacksonville.
It’s a scene the San Francisco 49ers are seeing a lot these days from their two young starting wide receivers.
And perhaps will continue to see for a long time to come.
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Crabtree, San Francisco’s first-round draft pick this year, and Morgan, the team’s sixth-round selection in 2008, are now entrenched as the starting wideouts on a team that has been searching for talent and stability at the receiver position for most of the past decade.
Both have become instrumental in the evolution of a San Francisco offense that began the season with a run-first mentality but now is spreading the field and throwing 40 passes a game.
Many of those passes are going toward Crabtree and Morgan, who were targeted 16 times by quarterback Alex Smith during a 20-3 victory over the Jaguars that lifted the 49ers to 5-6 and kept them on the edge of NFC playoff contention.
That tandem caught 10 of those passes for 97 yards as the 49ers produced one of their most consistent offensive performances of the season.
“Obviously, they’re pretty vital to what we’re doing,” Smith said Thursday. “They’re our two receivers now who are in there the majority of the time. I think they’re a big part of the reason we’re growing as an offense.”
Crabtree and Morgan both are growing as individuals. Crabtree immediately became a starter after joining the team in October, and Morgan recently supplanted veteran Isaac Bruce as the regular at flanker.
They have injected the offense with both talent and exuberance. The latter can be seen from both any time either makes a big play, something that has been occurring more and more often the past few weeks.
“Since the day he got here, we’ve been excited for each other and we’ve been pushing each other,” Morgan said. “We don’t want to get fined for it, but we’re happy out there and having fun. When you see the other guy out there making plays, you’re happy and excited about it, because it doesn’t get much better than when that happens in a game.”
Crabtree and Morgan are doing their part to improve an offense that has struggled for most of the season.
The San Francisco offense still languishes at 28th in the NFL rankings, but there is no question the 49ers have found a spark recently with Smith throwing more often to the young wideouts and tight end Vernon Davis.
Davis is having a career season. He ranks fifth in the NFC with 57 receptions and is tied for the NFL lead with nine touchdown catches.
Davis said the emergence of the young receivers on the edges has opened things up for him in the middle of the field and in the flats.
“It’s been a big help,” Davis said. “It’s just wonderful to have wide receivers that can make plays, because it takes so much pressure off the tight end position that it allows me to get open because they’re worried about Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan.”
Morgan (30 catches for 348 yards) and Crabtree (26 for 346) have climbed to third and fourth among San Francisco’s leading receivers behind Davis and running back Frank Gore (36 for 234).
Crabtree and Morgan also have been complementing each other well. Both are big-bodied receivers who bring a different skill set to the game, and both are becoming weapons that opposing defenses have to respect.
Smith had one of the best passing performances of his career last week, and the emergence of the young wideouts as legitimate threats has become a boon to the development of both Smith and the San Francisco offense.
“It’s kind of an on-the-job-training deal with the way it’s unfolded, because a lot of those people weren’t here early on,” offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said. “I think it’s an ongoing process for (Crabtree and Morgan). It’s not spit-shined and polished by any stretch of the imagination, but the growth has been good. Michael continues to learn every game. And last week, I think Josh Morgan played his best game.”
Morgan said there are many more performances like that to come from both him and Crabtree.
“Hey, we’re only getting started, you know?” he said. “We’re both big, strong receivers who can block for Frank, but we can also do things in the passing game. You have to account for us. When we get the opportunities, we can make plays. We just have to go out and do the job day in and day out now. The sky’s the limit with our talent.”