After an epic wait to get on the field, receiver Michael Crabtree apparently is making up for lost time.
The recently signed 49ers receiver made such an impression during bye week workouts that he might start Sunday when the 49ers play on the road against the Houston Texans.
Coach Mike Singletary held back on making an official announcement, saying the 49ers will wait to see if Crabtree continues to make progress during the week.
But so far, so good.
"I don't think that it's going to be too big for him," Singletary said. "To me, even though he's come in late, he looks like he's ready."
Crabtree, the No. 10 overall pick from Texas Tech, signed Oct. 7 and pledged to be ready quickly. He said he worked out twice a day in the Tampa, Fla., heat during his contract impasse so that he would be ready to go once he signed.
While most of the 49ers had time off for the bye, Crabtree remained behind to work with players such as running back Frank Gore and quarterback Alex Smith and the coaching staff.
Crabtree did not practice Saturday, Singletary said, but spent the day at 49ers complex studying film.
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye previously had indicated he would use Crabtree only as a slot receiver on third downs against Houston.
That plan now looks written in pencil. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that Josh Morgan has been told Crabtree will start in his place.
Can the rookie be ready that quickly? Based on last week's practice, Gore said Crabtree is catching on quickly.
"He looks explosive off the line," Gore said. "He's got great hands and he runs great routes."
Quarterback Shaun Hill hasn't thrown much to Crabtree, and both players have acknowledged it will take time to develop on-field chemistry. But Hill already is intrigued by the way the receiver makes the most of his 6-foot-1 frame.
"You kind of think, 'OK, he's a little bit on the short side.'"" Hill said. "But when he's out there playing and he gets his hands up and his arms out, he's a big target. Very strong hands to the ball. He attacks the ball. I think he's going to be good for us."
"We want to make sure we take care of our players," Singletary said. "Because taking care of the players means we're taking care of their families as well."
Ulbrich and long snapper Brian Jennings, each in his 10th season, are the 49ers' longest-tenured players. Singletary made the announcement less than a week after Ulbrich's extensive neurological exam at Stanford.
Ulbrich, who is away from the team this week handling personal business, has indicated lately that he would consider retirement.
"I think in the end he knows we have his best interest at heart," Singletary said. "To look down the road he's had a heck of a career."
The second of two third-round picks in 2000, Ulbrich has 75 career starts among his 120 career games. He has twice won the team's Matt Hazeltine Award, which goes annually to the most courageous and inspirational defensive player.
The latest of Ulbrich's multiple concussions came on kickoff coverage against the St. Louis Rams. "To me, he was a barbarian of the game," linebacker Patrick Willis said.
Willis, like countless other 49ers, credits Ulbrich for being a mentor. Willis recalled his first preseason game as a rookie, when Ulbrich recognized the formations and would call out to Willis what play was coming next.
Quarterback Shaun Hill said: "Jeff's been a great leader and I'm glad he's still going to be around. He's been here for the good times and he's been here for some bad times."
To replace him on the roster, the 49ers signed Matt Wilhelm, a former San Diego Chargers linebacker and special-teamer who comes with an endorsement from Greg Manusky. The 49ers defensive coordinator coached Wilhelm while both were in San Diego.
"As of right now, the early prognosis is that he's OK," Singletary said.