NAPA – There were roughly six weeks respite between the Raiders offseason program and the start of training camp. Receiver Michael Crabtree spent most of that time in his native Dallas.
He took two days out of his downtime to visit Bakersfield, not exactly a vacation destination. This was a business trip.
He joined quarterback Derek Carr and his fellow receivers for a two-day passing minicamp at the Carr family training complex. It was an important spell designed to build chemistry with Carr, who missed most of the offseason program with a finger issue.
“It was good work, building that chemistry in the passing game,” Crabtree said after the Raiders’ first training camp practice on Friday. “Coming from Dallas to Bakersfield was a good chance to play some football.”
As he has at every stage since signing an incentive-laden, one-year contract with the Raiders on April 13, Crabtree was impressive in the Central Valley.
Carr’s brother David, a friend of Crabtree’s from their days playing with the 49ers, certainly thought so.
“I thought it was great that he came all the way out there,” David Carr said. “I was impressed that he came walking into my house before those practices. Once he got on the field, he was vintage Crabtree. The guy can flat out make plays.”
The Raiders and Crabtree will benefit if he makes a bunch of them. He gets a $400,000 bonus if he gets 70 receptions or 900 receiving yards. He gets an additional $1.4 million if he hits 100 receptions or 1,400 yards. If he turns in those numbers, the Raiders offense is likely doing well.
It would be a rebound season for Crabtree, who had a statistically subpar season by his standard. That brought up questions about explosiveness, a trait that hasn’t been as prevalent after a bout of lower leg injuries. Solid, consistent production is the goal, but being in a contract year doesn’t up the ante for a 27-year old looking for a multi-year deal next offseason.
“There’s no extra pressure,” Crabtree said. “It’s just football. If you go out there and do your job, the numbers will speak for themselves at the end of the day.”
Crabtree did his job well on Friday. He made two spectacular catches in double coverage, showing ball skills and a knack for securing passes with a wide catching radius.
Plays like that endear him to a quarterback. So does his route running, which is precise and inviting.
“Whatever the route is, for some reason, it’s just easy to throw to him and that’s a credit to his route-running abilities,” Derek Carr said “That’s a credit to the extra work that he puts in in the offseason. I mean, that guy works his tail off now. You can tell when he gets out here, because he makes it look so easy. He’s making one-handed catches on go routes one foot off the ground like, ‘Oh, yeah, I do that every day,’ which he does.
“That’s just a credit to him and the work that he puts in. But he always finishes friendly, a great route runner and he makes catching look easy. Catching the ball is boring to him almost.”
The Raiders need consistency from Crabtree this season to take pressure and attention off rookie Amari Cooper. Crabtree is trying to insure that will happen. He and Derek Carr are always talking football during breaks, trying to establish a rapport that was surprisingly strong on the first practice of camp.
“Mike’s a proven player,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I don’t think we have to worry much about Mike other than becoming a good teammate, getting in tip-top shape, and having a great year. So it was a nice beginning for us to be on time with some of the throws with the quarterbacks and the receivers. It was good to see.”