SANTA CLARA -- Michael Crabtree was back snagging Colin Kaepernick's passes Friday, showing no signs of a hamstring injury that sidelined the 49ers wideout most of training camp.

Crabtree wasn't done, however. He then addressed the Bay Area media for the first time since last season's NFC Championship loss at Seattle, an ending that's motivated him this offseason as much as it has Kaepernick and their teammates.

"I felt like we should win. I felt like we should win all those big games," Crabtree said. "But this year is a test. How are we going to do? How we going to come back? Are we going to come back stronger?

"I'm going to do all I can to get this receiver-quarterback connection the best we can be. You know, trying to go to the top. I'm trying to be one of the best out here."

The 49ers' road to the top got blocked in familiar fashion each of the last two seasons, with Crabtree targeted on Kaepernick's final passes to the right side of the end zone. There were the three consecutive incompletions in Super Bowl XLVII. Then last year, Kaepernick's final pass to Crabtree was tipped by Richard Sherman for an interception, sparking Sherman's taunts that didn't die down all offseason.

Crabtree, dubbed as a "mediocre" and "sorry" receiver by Sherman, didn't respond to those taunts directly. But as he talked Friday, Crabtree's confidence hasn't wavered, neither in himself nor his 49ers teammates.


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"I see a lot of people talking about this and that," Crabtree said. "But when you turn that film on, you see football players, see guys that play with hearts, see guys that aren't scared of nobody. That's what I bring to the game.

"It's going to be an exciting year. I can't wait to get out there."

Crabtree hadn't fully practiced since July 29, only the fifth practice of training camp. His return to team drills Friday delighted the crowd at Levi's Stadium, where the 49ers will play for the first time in Sunday's exhibition against the Denver Broncos.

Crabtree is unsure whether the coaches will have him play Sunday. But he claims he's 100 percent healthy, not to mention 10 to 15 pounds lighter than he was upon last December's comeback from an Achilles tear.

Crabtree said he weighed 225 pounds when he returned against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 1. He's now at 210 to 215 pounds.

"I was fast enough to be on the field. But I wasn't me," said Crabtree, who had only one touchdown among his 34 catches over the final eight games, including playoffs. "You guys have been here long enough. This is going on my sixth year. You know when I'm at my best, you know when I ain't looking right."

Entering the final season of his rookie contract, Crabtree said he worked hard all summer to "get stronger, faster, smarter." For that, he credited not only the 49ers program under Mark Uyeyama but also how he "went back to my roots" with former Texas Tech trainer Bennie Wylie.

During the offseason, coach Jim Harbaugh hinted at more emphasis on the passing game. Great news for Crabtree?

"Whatever Coach says," Crabtree said. "If we're going to spread it out, let's spread it out. If we're going to power run it, then power run it. I'm just one of those guys that all you've got to do is tell me, 'Go.' "

  • Kaepernick will remain limited to a series or two in for Sunday's exhibition, meaning Blaine Gabbert will get quite a stage to redeem himself as the top backup.

    Gabbert not only struggled in the Aug. 7 exhibition loss at Baltimore (3 of 11, 20 yards, one interception), he had a rough practice Friday. He badly overthrew two receivers, had one pass easily defended by linebacker Chris Borland, and he fumbled a snap in the red zone. Three of his passes also were dropped.

    "Nothing set in stone, but very pleased with the job Blaine Gabbert is doing," Harbaugh said before Friday 's practice. Asked specifically if the No. 2 quarterback job is up for grabs -- among Gabbert, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson -- Harbaugh responded: "A lot of jobs are up for grabs at this point."

  • Linebacker Patrick Willis did not practice for the second straight day, perhaps as a result of Sunday's nerve stinger.

  • Blake Costanzo landed on injured reserve Wednesday because of a knee injury, according to Harbaugh, who expressed doubt if it was of the season-ending variety.

    Sunday's game
    Denver (1-0) at 49ers (0-1), 1 p.m., KPIX, NFLN