NEW ORLEANS — Michael Crabtree admits he used to sport a little “attitude,” but diva? That doesn’t define the San Francisco 49ers receiver, he insists.
“Can you describe diva to me?” Crabtree said. “I’ve heard it a lot (about himself). I can’t see me being a diva. I’ve seen those Snickers commercials where the guy turns into a diva because he’s hungry or something like that. But I don’t know what a diva is.”
Crabtree has tried to shed the labels that have dogged him since he left Texas Tech: Prima donna. Aloof. Injury prone.
He has yet to live up to the expectations that came after he caught 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns in 26 games for the Red
Raiders — coached by current Washington State coach Mike Leach — while twice winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver. But Crabtree is getting closer after his first 1,000-yard season in the NFL.
“He’s really strong after the catch, breaking tackles, catching the ball,” Niners receivers coach John Morton said. “He’s starting to do some of the same stuff he did in college.”
No one has benefited from the team’s change in quarterbacks more than Crabtree. In the nine games Colin Kaepernick has started, Crabtree has been targeted 84 times, making 56 catches for 771 yards and seven touchdowns.
“More targets,” Crabtree said. “Trust. When a guy’s got a lot of trust in you, when he comes to the huddle and tells you to get open, you’ve got to go make a play.”
Crabtree’s catches and yards have gone up each season. He made 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012 before making another 15 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns in two postseason games.
“He’s always been a great player. That’s always been our world view of it,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “What we see in practice and what we see in games, he’s always been a great contributor to our football team. He has talent, character and a great desire to be good …”
Crabtree, 25, didn’t get a chance to prove his worth as quickly as he had hoped. If it wasn’t a stress fracture, it was a neck injury. There was a contract holdout. He didn’t get many chances. It was always something.
Crabtree needed surgery on his left foot before the 2009 draft. His predraft visits to Cleveland and St. Louis didn’t go well. After the 49ers drafted him 10th overall, Crabtree drew criticism from teammates for a 71-day contract holdout.
He had a feud with tight end Vernon Davis during his second season. Then, in last season’s lockout, Crabtree and quarterback Alex Smith traded verbal shots as Crabtree skipped some workouts organized by Smith.
After the NFC Championship Game last season, Crabtree complained that Smith didn’t give him enough chances.
Now, things have changed. Crabtree said he and Smith, who have neighboring lockers at the team’s training facility, have a good relationship. Crabtree has won over Davis, too.
“He’s grown a lot,” Davis said. “He’s responsible. He’s a leader. He’s very patient. He’s a team guy. That’s what he is. … Everything takes time, and in time, things tend to work themselves out.”
Recently accused of sexual assault, Crabtree was cleared last week after an investigation by San Francisco police. He said he was “disappointed in the allegations” but has put it behind him and moved on.
Crabtree always has been good at turning the page. He wants the next chapter of his career titled: Super Bowl champion.
“It’s definitely a story and a story to be told, but it will make it that much better if I win this Super Bowl,” Crabtree said.