SANTA CLARA -- Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is "loving" the direction the 49ers offense is taking under Colin Kaepernick, and it's a familiar one for Crabtree.
Crabtree was introduced to Kaepernick's play-making ability four years ago, when they met as college stars at Texas Tech and Nevada, respectively. While Crabtree had seven catches for 158 yards and a touchdown in a 35-19 win at Nevada, Kaepernick passed for 264 yards and ran for 92 more.
"The guy was putting up points and running -- the same things he's doing now," Crabtree said. "There's not too many guys that can throw the ball like Kap."
Crabtree has caught a touchdown pass in each of his past five games against the St. Louis Rams, who host the 49ers on Sunday.
Crabtree and Kaepernick both turned 25 this season, their birthdays separated by less than two months. Both were high draft picks: Crabtree a first-round choice (10th overall, 2009) and Kaepernick a second-round selection (36th overall, 2011).
If they're the 49ers' future version of a Steve Young/Jerry Rice tandem, they're showing trust in each other. In Kaepernick's starting debut, he found Crabtree for an improvised, 10-yard touchdown pass against the Bears. They connected again on a 15-yard completion to get the 49ers out from deep in their own territory against the Saints last Sunday. "I knew Kap was going to throw me the ball," Crabtree said. "We needed the first down. So really we were on the same page,
Although Crabtree's kinship with Alex Smith has been questioned in the past, they've fared well under coach Jim Harbaugh. Crabtree had a career-high 72 catches for 874 yards last season with only four touchdowns. This season, Crabtree has 50 receptions for 567 yards and five TDs.
"I don't like to compare them. They're both good," Crabtree said. "Whoever is behind center, I'm trying to make plays for them."
After the 49ers' Nov. 4 bye, Smith tallied two sacks and six tackles in a Nov. 11 tie with the St. Louis Rams. He then produced 51/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and six tackles in a Nov. 19 win over Chicago, coming within a half-sack of Fred Dean's single-game team record for sacks. On Sunday, Smith had 11/2 of the 49ers' five sacks against the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees.
Last year's seventh-overall selection in the draft, Smith has 301/2 career sacks, and one more sack will shoot him past Reggie White for most by a player in their first two seasons since the stat became recognized by the league in 1982.