Eric Mangini may not have had experience coaching tight ends before the year began, but he was already quite familiar with his most prominent pupil.
In 2006 Mangini, who became the 49ers tight ends coach in February, was the new head coach of the New York Jets, who had managed just four wins the previous season and who had the fourth pick in the draft. As April crept closer, Mangini said the Jets narrowed their options to two: Offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson or a tight end out of Maryland named Vernon Davis.
New York had a huge need at left tackle at the time and would go onto to tap Ferguson, who has started every game since that draft and who has made three Pro Bowls. But Mangini said he spent “a ton of time” with Davis, it was an extremely close call and that the Jets were still debating the night before the draft.
“Coming from New England where we played a lot of split-safety defense, I knew the problems that good tight ends could make,” said Mangini, who had been the Patriots defensive coordinator before he was hired in New York.
“And Vernon was special in college,” he said. “We saw that and were thinking, again from a defensive perspective, of all the problems we can generate with that player. It was the night before the draft and we were still going back and forth on those two guys. I loved – LOVED – him, and I love the guy. Even when I first got here, we had that bond.”
That's what makes Mangini unique as a tight ends coach. He made a name for himself coaching defensive backs and his expertise to this point has been on that side of the ball. He spent nearly a decade keenly aware of the vulnerabilities in a defensive backfield, and he will try to exploit them with via the 49ers' tight ends.
According to second-year player Vance McDonald, “It’s almost like hearing from this Almighty -- a guy with football knowledge.”
“It's not just you and what you're doing,” McDonald said. “It's the context of the play, the man you're matched up against, down and distance. There are so many things that go into football that can make the game so much slower for us. And that's something he helps us all with.”