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Off the Snap: Michael Crabtree begins his long road back from injury

Michael Crabtree (Achilles) hopes to be back on the field by the end of the regular season.Michael Crabtree (Achilles) hopes to be back on the field by the end of the regular season. (Peter Read Miller/SI)

Catching you up on the latest must-read news and analysis from around the web….

• The fate of the competitive NFC this season may rest on the Achilles on the 49ers' Michael Crabtree. San Francisco's No. 1 receiver (and Colin Kaepernick's favorite target after he took over as quarterback) underwent surgery to repair an Achilles tear on May 22.

Now, six weeks removed from going under the knife, Crabtree says that he's "back working," though he's no doubt several months away from being fully healthy.

The 49ers are hoping Crabtree can get back on the field for the final few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs -- probably a best-case scenario when dealing with an injury of this severity. They should have Mario Manningham (knee) back well before that, but the Niners still need to figure out exactly how to account for Crabtree's absence on offense.

That mystery might make the Seahawks the NFC West favorites, for now, despite San Francisco's Super Bowl run last season. The first matchup between the 49ers and Seahawks takes place in Week 2, meaning at least Crabtree and possibly Manningham will be missing from the 49ers' lineup; the second showdown is slated for Dec. 8, which might be a viable target return date for Crabtree.

• Whether or not Greg Schiano actually believes Josh Freeman is ready to elevate the Buccaneers to the next level, Tampa Bay's head coach has thrown his full support behind the embattled QB. Despite the Buccaneers using a draft pick on N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon, Schiano told NFL Total Access that "we have only one (QB). It's Josh Freeman."

Consider that as strong a vote of confidence as Freeman has received from his coaching staff this offseason. The arrival of Glennon gave the impression that Tampa Bay might open up its quarterback competition in training camp. Instead, it again appears as if it is Freeman's job to lose.

• More wide receiver injury news, this time out of Detroit. According to Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website, both Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are "way ahead of schedule in their rehab" -- Burleson from a broken leg, Broyles from an ACL injury -- and "both are also expected to be ready to roll come Week 1."

Matthew Stafford ought to be smiling at that news. Burleson and Broyles, though they play similar games, could be Detroit's Nos. 2 and 3 receiving options this season, behind Calvin Johnson.

• Nine teams passed on Alabama guard Chance Warmack in the 2013 draft before the Tennessee Titans snatched him up. So far, they're elated with that turn of fortune. Titans coach Mike Munchak: "He knew he was going to have to work and he’s embraced it, so we’re very pleased with his development so far."

• The Cincinnati Bengals are not exactly sure how they'll utilize rookie RB Giovani Bernard just yet. But what they are certain of is that they need to get the football in Bernard's hands.

Running backs coach Hue Jackson has been so impressed with Bernard, in fact, that he revealed that Cincinnati's even considering lining Bernard up some at receiver just to keep him involved in the offense.

"He's so natural catching the ball. He can catch it like a receiver," Jackson said. "I knew he could catch it really well, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could go out there and line up outside and catch balls like some other guys can because he has that skill set."

Aside from the fantasy-football implications of Jackson's statement (Bernard's value only climbs if he becomes a legitimate pass-catching option for the Bengals), Bernard's versatility simply makes a dangerous Cincinnati offense even more of a threat. Bernard, fellow rookie Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and whichever Bengal wins the No. 2 receiving job will provide QB Andy Dalton with all sorts of choices when he takes to the air.

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