SAN FRANCISCO – Even if he were the strong, silent type, which he is not, Vernon Davis would make you pay attention. Clamoring for better chemistry with his quarterback. Lobbying for more passes. Setting franchise records. Talking about art. Talking about life.
On Sunday, the 49ers tight end even broke into a convincing imitation of his squeaky-voiced teammate, Frank Gore.
Really, what didn't he do Sunday? In the 49ers' 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Davis had the game of his life in the first half. He caught touchdown passes of 61 and 35 yards, amassed 171 of his career-best 180 yards before intermission, made one impressive grab after another, including a leaping, over-the-shoulder catch and balletic landing just inside the far sideline.
"When he went up, climbed the ladder, I didn't think he was going to be able to make that play," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, listing his favorites among Davis' eight receptions. "And then the touchdown. That ball seemed like it got tipped. Great concentration making that play."
These are tough choices. Slants, fades, crossing routes. Tight end, wide receiver, slot receiver. There was Davis jumping for that 28-yarder, grabbing a ball and sprinting for a 61-yard touchdown, blowing past the coverage for another over-the-shoulder catch – the one Harbaugh liked so much – and powering over the goal line to extend the 49ers' lead to 22-14.
While the receiving corps remains depleted by the injuries to Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, the 49ers have to be encouraged by the fact Davis is almost fully recovered from a hamstring strain that sidelined him against the Indianapolis Colts (Sept. 22) and loving every minute of it. Gone are the days he wondered aloud about the benching of his friend, Alex Smith, and the swift elevation of a young Colin Kaepernick. Or mused about a lack of connection with his quarterback. Or feared that he was becoming an afterthought. Or felt he was underappreciated.
Anquan Boldin led the other 49ers receivers with three receptions, managing just 28 yards against his former Cardinals squad that was crippled early by mistakes, among them a pass- interference call against wideout Michael Floyd on a potential go-ahead touchdown and two quick interceptions by the strong-armed Carson Palmer.
On this particular Sunday, it was the younger, less- experienced Kaepernick who threw the tighter, more accurate spirals.
"It was beautiful," Davis said. "(Kaepernick) was able to find me several times, and we started to click. Because that's what it's about. It's about being on the same page and having that chemistry with your quarterback."
That was part of it, of course. But then there are all the other elements that contribute to the eight-year pro's success: size, speed, work ethic, conditioning, and not to be overlooked, his improvement as a pass-catcher. Davis, who was a standout high jumper during his illustrious prep career at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., just doesn't drop many balls anymore, not even the ones with the highest degree of difficulty. He spends much of his offseasons perfecting the art of the over-the-shoulder catch during constant drill work with 49ers trainer Nathan Breske.
Asked to theorize about his ability to retain his speed at age 29, a time many athletes begin to slow down, he shrugged, smiled and pointed to his body. He is still 6-foot-3, true. He is still famously muscular, also true. But over the course of these past few seasons, he says he has shed significant body fat and approximately 5 pounds to arrive at his current weight of 245 pounds.
"I feel like I've gotten faster," Davis said while standing outside the locker room, color coordinated right down to his lavender and white sneakers. "I'm out there just running, because that's my biggest asset. My speed. I changed my diet. No fast foods. Stay away from steak. I don't eat too much red meat."
And then he was off, ostensibly for a meal of fish, chicken and greens.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin and follow her on Twitter@ailene_voisin.