ALAMEDA — You’ve got to hand it to Michael Crabtree. He’s as consistent in his dealings with the media as he is running routes on the field.
While compiling several sources for a Crabtree story that was posted last week, I had a message out for Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback and NFL Network analyst who has been a mentor to the Raiders wide receiver since 2009.
The chances for a few minutes of “Prime Time” seemed remote in that Sanders, 50, doesn’t do a lot of interviews outside of a national realm. Yet after the story was published, it turned out that Sanders was willing and even eager to talk about Crabtree.
Crabtree, as is his usual custom during the week, politely declined comment on the first story. After talking to Sanders, I circled back to Crabtree Thursday — on his 30th birthday, no less — to see he would be willing to talk about his relationship with Sanders.
“Naw, man, I’m trying not to talk, you know?,” Crabtree said with a smile.
We can all agree Crabtree is succeeding in this regard.
In a phone interview, Sanders, when discussing Crabtree, was nothing like his television persona. Rather, Sanders talked of Crabtree as one would a doting relative.
Some highlights from our conversation:
How they met
“His uncle, David Wells, works for the Cowboys organization. He told me about him. I wanted to help train him but some people wanted him to train at the Michael Johnson center. We had a meeting and they proposed training him Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while my group would train him Tuesday and Thursday.
“I was like, `You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Y’all got it, we’re good. We were fighting for a client instead of looking out for the best interests of the kid. I think he respected the fact that we were going to do what was best for him, that he needed to be with one person. So we bowed out.
“So we were still tight. I played both positions at the pro level so I was able to give him some insights as to what a defensive back was thinking as well as a receiver, and what he needed to do to accomplish his goal.”
Crabtree’s progress and skill as a receiver
“Honestly I think Crab has gotten better with each year and that’s not saying he was bad at the beginning. I think he knows the expectation, knows what he’s capable of doing and knows how to attack the game mentally. He’s always had the physical tools, but he attacks it mentally now. And he’s a complete guy. He can play outside, he can play inside, he can get vertical, he can move the chains. And he can catch the darn ball in traffic as well.”
The Crabtree contrast — flashy on the field, quiet and reserved off it
“He’s kind of subtle. He definitely reminds me of myself unless we’re really putting on for the media. Now, he does dress the part. The way he dresses really is his personalty. But he is sort of reluctant when it comes to conversation or in a situation that he’s not accustomed to when he doesn’t know all the participants.
“It’s ironic. I’ve seen him in some press conferences where he froze on the screen and he looks like he could be one of my sons. We always joke about that.”
Crabtree’s friendship with Amari Cooper and being a big brother to fellow wide outs
“He’s grown into that. He’s matured into that. That’s what I’m really ecstatic about. He understands his responsibility. He has no envy or jealousy toward his teammate who is another phenomenal receiver. He understands that they complement one another. and you’ve got to really, really give him credit for that. Especially at that position, there are a lot of divas and jealousy and envy at that position. But he’s not into that.”
How much longer Crabtree can play
“First of all, you’ve got to understand, he’s got the guy on the other side, so he doesn’t have to carry the full burden. That’s a bonus, a plus for any receiver. You have a tandem that’s capable of doing a thousand yards apiece and a quarterback who’s got a longterm deal and a running back to take some the pressure off him.”
Crabtree’s growth outside of football
“The sky’s the limit for this kid, man. He’s really understanding life after football, and he’s setting up for that. He’s understanding his finances and what he’s able to do to secure those. He’s always been a wonderful son to his mother. A wonderful big brother to his siblings. He’s doing things in the community. I call him a kid — I’ll always call him a kid — he really is a good kid, man.”
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