Those who already considered 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree a "diva" probably pictured him belting out arias this fall when he sat out another set of preseason games recovering from a foot injury.
Veteran offensive lineman Joe Staley, who roomed with Crabtree during the 49ers' training camp, saw something different: A "really hard worker who took football very serious."
That was nothing new, Staley said.
"I never saw that whole entire label that everybody was putting on him," Staley said. "He's been nothing but a great professional and a great teammate since he's been here. He works really, really hard at his craft, and we're seeing the fruits of that this season."
Crabtree emerged late in the season as a go-to receiver for quarterback Alex Smith and finished with career highs of 72 catches for 874 yards.
The "diva" tag affixed to Crabtree when he left Texas Tech dogged him through the contract dispute before his rookie season in 2009, the 2010 preseason that he missed after injuring his neck, and questions that arose last summer regarding his relationship with Smith.
Players and coaches, though, describe a consummate teammate. Some cite Crabtree's downfield blocking one of a receiver's less-glamorous responsibilities as an example. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Wednesday that Crabtree has blocked "as good or better than any receiver I've seen in the NFL this year."
"A lot of (receivers) don't do that stuff," Staley said. "He does that without question, all the time."
Coach Jim Harbaugh's team-first brusqueness would seem likely to clash with a player concerned with image, but he has praised Crabtree for his selflessness and participation in team meetings.
Crabtree, in turn, said this week that Harbaugh is "a good motivator."
"He's just a realist, to everybody on the team," Crabtree said. "He's a good guy, a good guy you want to listen to. Straight to the point."
Smith said his on-field connection with Crabtree improved over the course of this season, as the lingering pain from Crabtree's broken foot subsided and the 49ers adapted to Roman's offense.
Crabtree said the foot has been completely healed for about five to six weeks. He made 41 of his catches and three of his four touchdowns in the 49ers' past seven games.
"I think he's playing at a real high level for us, and kind of goes unnoticed a little bit," Smith said. "But not around here. I think every guy appreciates what he does in the run game and the pass. He continues to make plays for us."
Also calling the third-year receiver a "playmaker" this week was tight end Vernon Davis, who last fall ripped Crabtree in a practice field spat and told reporters he was "getting (Crabtree) in check."
"He makes plays all the time," Davis said. "Whatever you ask him to do, he will do it. And it's taken him a little time, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish."
Crabtree has been described as introverted. Staley said the third-year receiver is "quiet" but opens up sometimes in the locker room.
Ted Ginn Jr., acquired by the 49ers before the 2010 season, said this week he connected quickly with Crabtree and now considers him to be "like a brother."
"You can't really judge a book by its cover," Ginn said. "You keep reading and keep learning and the book will eventually start to tell itself. All the stuff that you hear, or you may see, that's just him. Might get a good feel from him, might get a bad feel from him. He's a good guy."