RICHMOND — If there’s a competition in the wide receivers’ room to become Alex Smith’s favorite target, Jamison Crowder has taken the early lead.
The slot receiver has been open throughout training camp, and he and his quarterback seem to have developed some quick chemistry. Smith has finished in the top 10 in the NFL in completion percentage the past four seasons, including third in 2017 at 67.5 percent. In other words, he will find the open man, and Crowder has been that guy.
“Jamison is a quarterback’s dream as far as getting open in the slot and being a great target for him, a friendly target,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “He plays a lot bigger than his size. He has very long arms, very athletic.”
Smith always has been adept at working the intermediate and underneath routes — the crossing routes and outs at which Crowder specializes. The 5-foot-9, 177-pounder isn’t running many go-routes.
“I’m just trying to continue to do what I can do to be in the right positions and make him a friendly target,” Crowder said. “I really don’t know what it is. We made some plays since the start of this camp. I think we all have a good connection with Alex, and as we continue to go forward, it’s going to continue to grow, and we’ll be ready once the season gets here.
“It’s just reps and film study. Going out there and repping it with the quarterback, then going back and watching film and just talking over some things we can do better. Or things that we can do where we can have that connection.”
Crowder caught 66 passes for 789 yards and three touchdowns in 2017, slightly down from his 67 receptions for 847 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Smith will spread the ball around to a talented group of receivers in Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson Jr. and Jordan Reed, but Crowder could be on the verge of a monster year.
“He can make them cuts and in and out of his breaks so fast, it can mess with you,” linebacker Zach Brown said. “Now he got a lot better at running his routes.
“Alex knows. Alex is Alex. If you’re open, he’s going to give you the ball.”
Added cornerback Quinton Dunbar: “I feel like Jamison is one of the best slot receivers in the league. I mean, he’s just quick, smart, deceptive, and he’s just got a feel for finding holes in the defense and getting away from defenders.”
Smith showed off his accuracy during Sunday’s fully padded session. He had success in seven-on-seven, team and red-zone work. The 13th-year veteran even had a long touchdown run, though he might have been stopped with live tackling. He threw a deep ball to Vernon Davis down the right seam and found Crowder on the kind of crossing route that has become a staple between the two. Richardson also had a good day with a pair of touchdowns from Smith.
The defense had been fairly dominant the previous two days, but Smith rebounded admirably.
“That guy is so frustrating,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “… He’s so precise right now, so he’s not making mistakes. … That’s the most frustrating thing to a defensive back. You’re in great position, you get there at the top of the route and you’re ready for a play to be made, and it doesn’t come. But on the ones you’re a little step behind on and you’re almost there to make, he throws it.
“It’s those games. Cat and mouse. Cat and mouse games. It just sucks when you’re the mouse.”
The team canceled the afternoon walk-through and has Monday off. The team will return to the field Tuesday morning.
Wide receiver Brian Quick suffered a thigh contusion and is day-to-day.
Starting linebacker Mason Foster went down during an early team period and did not return. He remained on the field with his helmet on but did not participate in any other periods. The team said he’s fine.
“Jordan Reed is in and out of his cuts like he hasn’t lost anything,” Gruden said. “I think it’s just a matter of maintaining his strength and getting stronger and stronger where he feels absolutely 100 percent sure he can make cuts to his left, cuts to his right effortlessly without having to worry or think about it. I think he is well on his way.
“I think we could probably practice him now full go if we wanted to, but we just want to try to gradually build him up to where we’re for sure he’s ready to roll.”
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