While first-year coach Jim Harbaugh didn't rule out Crabtree for Thursday night's exhibition finale at San Diego, that seems like a long-shot considering he hasn't done 11-on-11 drills.
The Niners still believe Crabtree will be ready for the season opener Sept. 11 against defending NFC West champion Seattle at Candlestick Park.
"We'll see just how quickly he's able to re-acclimate into playing shape, football shape, and back into the flow of playing," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "He's an explosive receiver. He catches the ball extremely well, does a great job of getting yards after the catch. What I have seen being around him this training camp is that he's a football guy, smart guy. He's really good in the meetings. He's been outstanding in his participation. I think that's going to bode well for him and hasten that ability to get back in the lineup."
Crabtree, the 10th overall draft pick in 2009 out of Texas Tech, was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list before taking the field after missing time with a left foot injury. He participated in a short pass-and-catch drill with quarterback Alex Smith before moving to the front field to do agility drills and individual work. A day earlier, Crabtree caught a couple dozen balls from Smith during warmups before general manager Trent Baalke stopped him. The team immediately reported the situation to the NFL. League spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday there would be no action by the NFL.
"We reviewed it. It took place during a pre-practice period," Aiello said in an email. "He's been activated by the club. Case closed."
Harbaugh made clear the "oversight," as the team called it, wasn't intentional.
"There's absolutely no malice by the team to try to break any rules or steal practice reps for Michael Crabtree," Harbaugh said. "Did he or did he not practice? I can answer that question. He did not practice, and that was obvious."
The 23-year-old Crabtree had 55 catches for 741 yards and six touchdowns last year.
Harbaugh had been hopeful Crabtree would return this week, even if he clearly is still limited in how much of a load he can handle.
It was recently revealed that Crabtree broke his foot and needed surgery after getting hurt during workouts led by Smith in June during the lockout. He missed the 2010 preseason with a neck injury a year after a 71-day contract stalemate as a rookie.
"He's done a great job in meetings, the walkthroughs, the meetings out on the field," Smith said. "He's really had his head in it, paying a lot of attention, asking a lot of questions. Obviously, it does take the reps as well, so we'll see. He's done it before, his rookie year he stepped right in and contributed right away."
Crabtree hasn't formally spoken to reporters so far this preseason.
"I'm getting better. I'm all right," he said during a brief stop at his locker after Tuesday's workout. "Once I get on that field, I'm going to be the first person to talk to y'all."
Crabtree's teammates sure don't sound concerned about him being behind.
"I'll tell you what, I don't think anybody here is worried about him," cornerback Shawntae Spencer said. "He's always had a great work ethic. Everybody's excited to have him back. They're playing it better-safe-than-sorry with Crabtree working back into it."
Crabtree, who has long had the reputation of being a diva, was angrily confronted by tight end Vernon Davis during an early September practice last year and then-coach Mike Singletary had to step between them. There have been no such known issues this year.
"I know Crab's a baller," running back Frank Gore said. "I know 15 is going to help this team and Sept. 11 he'll be out there."
Aiello said the case of WR Braylon Edwards and a possible suspension by the league were "under review." He was linked to a bar fight in Michigan earlier this month. Edwards hasn't heard anything. "Yeah, that's great news, that's a little better than good news." ... Spencer, who has been nursing a hamstring injury, said he is still not full strength. "Still being very cautious," he said. "It's a nagging injury. I don't want it to linger on into the season."