JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Vernon Davis (85) had just one catch against A.J. Hawk and the Green Bay Packers, but he burned the Atlanta Falcons for five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.

Ailene Voisin: Davis' role diminished, but confidence intact

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1X
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 - 10:33 am

NEW ORLEANS – Vernon Davis is an art buff and a convert to 49ers historian. Names, dates, places. Positions, seasons, scores. Legends and legacies and memories.

The loquacious tight end – a man of many words on a team known for tight lips, big hits and an evolving, explosive offense – is enjoying this city and the scene, and planning for another postseason blitz.

"I was walking down the street the other day, and I was looking up, and I was like, 'Wow. The Super Bowl,' " Davis said. "This is incredible. Just being a part of this franchise is legendary. Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Steve Young. And to be able to bring a ring back … that's something you can cherish for the rest of your life."

For Davis, who celebrated his 29th birthday Thursday, it's all about perspective, all about the ring. But the journey to the Big Easy has not been without its difficult times, not without its humbling moments; his candor has been tempered by a tinge of political savvy.

A first-round pick in 2006 out of Maryland, Davis is among only a handful of veterans who can speak authoritatively on recent 49ers history: the lean years, the turnover in coaches and offensive systems, the instability at quarterback.

So, go ahead, pinch him. It's painless.

Recalling the days of Montana and Rice and Young is only possible because of Trent Baalke's personnel overhaul, Alex Smith's emergence last season, Colin Kaepernick's development, Jim Harbaugh's powerful and unpredictably successful grip on the franchise. And because Davis enjoyed a splendid 2012 postseason and had five catches, 106 yards and a touchdown in the 2013 NFC Championship Game.

Michael Crabtree is Kaepernick's favorite receiver. Davis understands that. He isn't crazy about it, isn't thrilled that he was more decoy than offensive darling throughout much of the season; he caught only five passes in the five games prior to the victory in Atlanta. But he is also a realist. The Kaepernick-Crabtree marriage features all the dynamic characteristics of a Harbaugh-Kaepernick or Mary Matalin-James Carville union.

Democrats. Republicans. For whatever reason, it clicks.

And for whatever reason – Crabtree's exceptional hands are high on the list – the reclusive wideout long regarded as a diva is now the star of the receiving corps. Once, that was Davis. Today, against the Ravens, perhaps it will be Davis again.

"The only thing that stuck out (in the Atlanta game) is probably the way they dropped me in coverage a few times and I got open," he said. "But these guys switch their coverage up quite a bit."

At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Davis is a slightly sleeker version of his former self. Only Kaepernick spends more time pounding the barbells. Davis' mindset is to maintain his diligent work ethic, continue pressing upward in the hierarchy of receivers, and hope that opportunities to excel in the 49ers' first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years present themselves.

But the other part of the Super Bowl equation? The publicity and the media mania?

Davis makes no apologies. He loves the spotlight and craves the national stage. While many of the 49ers and Ravens have endured the hours and hours of interview sessions, wishing to be anywhere but staring into cameras and repeating stories, Davis has been a superstar.

It didn't matter whether he was situated on the risers in front of a microphone or seated at one of the round tables. He was a complete charmer. He made eye contact with reporters and responded thoughtfully, with expressive hand gestures, smiles, nods, head shakes. He spoke of the relaxing effect of painting colors on canvas. He discussed his craft extensively, and acknowledged the doubts earlier in his career about his pass-catching abilities.

While he sets bone-crunching blocks – he sprung Kaepernick and Frank Gore for huge gains in Atlanta – the hands that create art still aren't the softest in the league.

"He has gotten better at certain things," Smith said, "like catches over the shoulder."

Davis said he studies and often approaches opponents he regards as the league's elite tight ends. Two weeks ago, he had questions for the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez.

"He blocks, catches passes and doesn't complain," Davis said, "and he takes care of his assignments. A great tight end. When times are tough, when he's not getting the ball, he doesn't complain."

Asked whether the combination of his 2012 postseason and his performance in Atlanta validated his stature, Davis smiled.

"I am one of them (stars)," Davis said, "and the coaches know what they have in me. When they're ready for the help, I'll be there. I think we're almost there, and when you win, everything takes care of itself."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



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