SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Now that he has taken over the unofficial role as the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 wide receiver, rookie Michael Crabtree is searching for missing elements in his game.
The team's first-round draft pick has had a rather smooth and productive transition into San Francisco's starting lineup since joining the 49ers in early October. But after his first month of NFL action, Crabtree says there's one thing that has been lacking in his repertoire.
"YAC," Crabtree said Thursday. "That's what I was really big on in college, and in football period. I just want to get that YAC."
Crabtree is looking for more yards after the catch (YAC) to jump-start a San Francisco offense that ranks 27th in the NFL. The 49ers (4-5) figure to need a big effort from their passing game Sunday when they visit Green Bay (5-4) in a match-up of NFC teams fighting to remain in playoff contention.
With veteran Isaac Bruce's recent demotion from the starting lineup in favor of Josh Morgan, Crabtree has assumed the role as San Francisco's top wideout. He has been the 49ers' most-targeted wide receiver in each of the four games he has played.
Since making his first start Oct. 25, Crabtree has displayed the ability to consistently get open and make the tough catch.
But he hasn't been able to break many big plays. His longest gain of the season is 27 yards and he's averaging 11.9 yards per reception. He has yet to score his first NFL touchdown.
"I'm learning every game, I'm learning every day," Crabtree said. "But I've only played four games. I'm more comfortable now, but we have a long way to go, and I'm just focused on getting better every day and getting the job done in the situation coach puts me in."
The 49ers are putting their passing game in the hands of two young receivers who have a combined total of 14 NFL starts. Like Crabtree, second-year player Morgan has impressed coaches enough to put the 37-year-old Bruce on the bench. Bruce led the 49ers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches last season.
With tight end Vernon Davis in the midst of a breakout season, the 49ers feel they have several top targets now emerging for quarterback Alex Smith in a passing game that has seen considerable transition this season. Smith didn't become the starter until three weeks ago.
"Mike Crabtree, as he gains more confidence and he gets better in the route running, I would think he would get more balls coming his way," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "But at the same time, I would think that Josh would expect more balls. And Vernon would expect more balls. And Jason (Hill) would expect more balls.
"Whether Mike is the go-to guy, or whatever that is, I think the most important thing is that we are in sync as an offense. Who gets the ball more, I don't really care about that. We want the team concept and we are going to keep that concept going forward."
But the 49ers realize the importance of getting the ball to Crabtree, who already is proving to be a tough match-up for opponents with his size and ability to shield defenders from the football.
Seven of Smith's 23 passes were intended for Crabtree during last week's 10-6 victory over Chicago, and the two have developed a rapport since spending extra time working together during the 49ers' bye week in mid-October.
"He just continues to keep working and every week he's here he just keep getting better and better," Smith said. "He's a very gifted player and he has so many tools. He has a very natural feel for the game and you're just going to see it get better and better for him."
Crabtree is likely to see more passes coming his way as the 49ers hit the stretch run and fight to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"Come Sundays, if that's my role, then I just have to do my job," Crabtree said. "All I'm focusing on is doing my job. If my number's called, I make that play."