Texans to welcome Crabtree to NFL

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Wide receiver Michael Crabtree hasn't played a game since his college days at Texas Tech, and the Texans get the first glimpse of the first-round pick.

It will have been a while - 296 days, to be exact - but Michael Crabtree finally will put on pads and play competitive football for the first time since the Cotton Bowl in January.

The former Texas Tech wide receiver is now a 49er, and his professional debut is Sunday at Reliant Stadium versus the Texans. It's been a whirlwind two-and-a-half weeks since he signed his six-year contract, which came after more than five months of near inactivity with his San Francisco teammates.

Since the Oct. 7 agreement, the 49ers reported that Crabtree's fitness would have to be evaluated before they'd figure out his debut game. A few days after that announcement came the news that he'd play 10-15 snaps against the Texans. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Crabtree likely will start against Houston.

That rapid acceleration in expectations doesn't come as much of a surprise to anyone on the Texans, who see a few parallels between the rookie and All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson.

"I did when I studied Michael in the draft; I think they're a lot alike," head coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday. "Big players, explosive players, really good after the catch with the football, dangerous."

Crabtree, who was the 10th pick overall in the April draft, slipped from the top because of a broken bone in his left foot that required surgery to insert a screw. The foot injury wasn't enough to dissuade the 49ers from selecting Crabtree, and now the Texans get the first glimpse of the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner.

"He was a great college player, and unfortunately we get to see his first pro game," Kubiak said. "He's a great player."

How do the Texans prepare for a player that they haven't seen on NFL game tape? And how much impact do they expect from a rookie receiver such limited professional experience?

"We just have to know what the 49ers like to do, what their tendencies are," said cornerback Jacques Reeves, who will cover Crabtree at times on Sunday. "He's a big-play guy. He made a lot of big plays at Tech, and I'm sure San Francisco wouldn't have drafted him in the first round if they didn't expect the same thing. I'm sure they'll try to get him the ball and showcase him a little bit."

{QUOTE}Linebacker Brian Cushing, who was around Crabtree quite a bit in New York City in the days leading up to the draft, is impressed with the receiver as well, noting that there's a lot of the proverbial 'sizzle' that goes along with the 'steak.'

"He's a flashy guy, on and off the field," Cushing said. "He's a great football player, and that's what matters most. I think he's going to be starting this weekend, so it shows what (the 49ers) think of him."

Crabtree played receiver in college after playing quarterback in high school at Dallas Carter. Texans rookie cornerback Brice McCain, who grew up just east of Dallas in Terrell, marvels at Crabtree's athleticism

"He looks like he can play anything," McCain said. "I'm impressed with what he did in college, and I can't wait to see what he looks like in the NFL and what his career will look like."

Perhaps the highest accolades this week for Crabtree, who cracked the 3,000-yard mark in just two seasons with Texas Tech, came from Johnson.

"I was a big fan of his," Johnson said. "I love to see wide receivers do well. He was a young guy in college and he was ripping the game up. It was kind of crazy because you just turned on the T.V. every weekend, and even if I couldn't see him play, I'd just look at the stats and see what kind of stats he put up."

But Johnson's praise comes with a tad of skepticism, as the All-Pro wideout thinks the adjustment to the NFL might take a while.

"He's a tremendous talent," Johnson said. "If he had the chance to go through training camp and get those preseason games under his belt, you'd really want to see what he would be doing right now in this league. He'll get his first chance on Sunday."

Crabtree, who caught more touchdowns in his first month of college football than any Red Raider receiver had during a single season, will get a warm welcome to the league from Johnson.

"Whenever I see a young guy that I watched growing up through college who's been drafted, I always go up to them and tell them congratulations," Johnson said. "Because I know what it takes to accomplish your goal and get to this level. I wish him all the best."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Texans TV's Drew Dougherty covered Texas Tech football from 2005-09 for the FOX and Telemundo affiliates in Lubbock.

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