Paul Kitagaki Jr. Bee file, 2012 The 49ers' Anthony Davis (76) helped spring Alex Smith for a 28-yard touchdown run in a playoff win over New Orleans last January.

These days, only critic of 49ers lineman Davis is himself

Published: Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 - 10:36 am

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Following an exhibition game this summer in which the 49ers rolled up 260 yards on the ground, right tackle Anthony Davis was asked if he was happy with the offensive line's performance.

Yeah, he said, except for the jerk who had a false start on San Francisco's opening drive.

That jerk?

Anthony Davis.

During Davis' first two years in the league, plenty of critics questioned why the 49ers would trade up two slots in the 2010 draft to take an immature underclassman with conditioning issues in the first round.

After Davis committed 10 penalties – seven were false starts – and gave up 11 1/2 sacks his rookie season, the criticism only mounted.

After three games this season, however, Davis' only critic is himself.

On Wednesday, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan gushed about the 6-foot-5, 323-pounder, calling Davis one of the "premier" right tackles in the game.

"You got a guy who has all the athleticism that you look for," Ryan said. "(He's) a power player, he finishes, he's good in pass protection, a tremendous athlete. I think he has all the tools."

Davis winced at the compliment and wondered whether the Jets' coach was trying to set him up.

"I don't take praise well," Davis said. "I feel like they're trying to make you complacent, because I'm not near where I want to be. There's a lot of work to be done."

Today's game will be played 40 miles from where Davis grew up in Piscataway, N.J., and 35 miles from where he played college football at Rutgers.

At Piscataway High School, Davis was a teammate of Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson, who promises to be in the spotlight today because he replaces injured starter Darrelle Revis, widely considered the best cornerback in the league.

At Rutgers, Davis played for hard-nosed head coach Greg Schiano and gained a reputation for his feisty play.

Davis has brought that East Coast mean streak to the Bay Area. He teams with guard Alex Boone on the right side of the offensive line, giving that unit an edginess it hasn't had since Derek Deese, Ron Stone and Jeremy Newberry played in San Francisco a decade ago.

Said Boone earlier this year: "We have the same mind frame, and we think alike. We're not out there to be your friend – we're out there to pound you and beat you up."

Running back Frank Gore said he picked up on Davis' fiery attitude immediately. Because of it, Gore knew Davis would succeed even when he was struggling his rookie season.

"He always had that 'dogness' in him," Gore said, coining a new term. "I knew he was going to be all right his rookie year because I knew how mean and nasty he is."

In his first two years, Davis had stretches in which he'd live up to his No. 11 overall draft status. As a rookie in 2010, for instance, he shut down Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews for one game in a season in which Matthews had 13 1/2 sacks.

But for every 10 solid plays, there was an error. This year, the focus has been on consistency. He has been very good – dominating at times, just ask Detroit's Cliff Avril – in his first three outings, and he has yet to commit a penalty during the regular season.

Noting that Davis is only 22 years old – his birthday is next month – offensive coordinator Greg Roman said one of the reasons for Davis' improvement is that he and fellow third-year player Mike Iupati finally have had a full year in the 49ers' offseason program.

They came in as wide-eyed rookies in 2010. Last year's offseason was wiped out by the lockout.

"Really, from March on, we've seen nothing but improvement – fundamentally, mentally, recognition-wise, and Anthony's playing at a high level," Roman said. "Are there things that he needs improvement on? Yes, but everybody does. … (But) Anthony's the kind of guy I want to go into a conflict with because he's going to fight."

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