Liotta: With Crabtree, 49ers have all the pieces in place

Before anointing Alex Smith the 49ers’ savior, take a deep breath and look again at a videotape of last week’s game against the Texans. The next 49ers star is there — it just wasn’t Smith.

Sure, coming off the bench, after the 49ers had been outscored 66-10 over the previous six quarters, Smith did a nice job. He moved the team, threw three touchdown passes and generally looked like he belonged in charge of the 49ers huddle.

Which was no small achievement, considering how far Smith had fallen. From the No. 1 pick in an NFL draft to a guy who couldn’t beat out some guy named Hill 95 percent of NFL fans never heard of.

I really think turning to Smith was a great decision by Mike Singletary, who put the 49ers’ former franchise quarterback in a no-lose position. Had Smith failed, it would have meant two more quarters down the slide toward disappointment.

But if he succeeded, which he almost did, Smith would re-emerge from his forgotten status with none of the baggage he’d lugged around in his first four NFL seasons.

Today’s assignment against the Colts is an entirely different proposition. Smith has had all week to deal with his disappointments. To think about what the opportunity means to him. If you think this will feel anything like last Sunday in Houston, you are out of your mind.

If he doesn’t admit to having taken a few deep breaths by the time he runs out on the field today, he’s lying.

The best news for Smith may just be that he has rookie Michael Crabtree to throw to. To me, Crabtree was the gem that emerged from last week’s game.

A rookie with three weeks of practice, Crabtree made five impressive catches and a sixth that was called back. Every one made you say, “Wow, that was a nice play. Who made that catch?” And every time it was Crabtree.

The rookie who may have conducted the silliest holdout in league history looked downright dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, with so little preparation, I’m saying he’s the next big thing for the 49ers.

To add a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver to tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore would be huge for the 49ers’ offense — if somebody can get him the ball, which brings us back to Smith.

If Smith can evolve into a successful NFL starting quarterback — something he hasn’t proven no matter how much applause he gets for his gallant effort last Sunday — it changes a lot of things.

This year, it will make the 49ers more of an offensive threat. Next year, it would put the 49ers’ in a spot with the team having two first-round draft picks. If they don’t need a franchise quarterback the possibilities would be endless.

If it turns out they do, the next 10 weeks of 49ers football may feel endless.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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