Jim Tomsula feverishly coaching defensive linemen who were drafted by Scot McCloughan. Vernon Davis accelerating past opposing linebackers on deep passes. Greg Manusky, bifocals balanced at the end of his nose, calling plays for the defense.
When the 49ers play the Washington Redskins on Sunday, they’ll be looking at an earlier version of themselves.
When Davis still was with San Francisco in 2015, the storyline was that he had become too consumed with his “brand” – from acting to an art gallery to his Jamba Juice franchise – and the 49ers traded him to Denver for a sixth-round pick. Washington picked him up in free agency the following year and now, at age 33, Davis seems rejuvenated in the town where he was born and raised.
He’s off to his best start since 2013 – 160 receiving yards through four games. In a Week 4 loss to Kansas City, he had a 69-yard reception, his longest since hauling in a 73-yard pass from Alex Smith in the 2011 NFC championship game.
“I think his career has been revived,” 49ers safety Eric Reid said. “He looks really good. He’s blocking a lot harder than he has in the past. He’s running a lot more routes. They’re using him. He’s back to the younger Vernon Davis.”
Manusky, meanwhile, was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator from 2007-10. He served as Washington’s outside linebackers coach last season and in the offseason was promoted to defensive coordinator.
The Redskins defense, which finished 28th overall a year ago, has jumped to ninth so far this season and is playing with fire and energy that hasn’t been seen in Washington in recent years
For that, Tomsula has received a lot of credit.
The longtime defensive line coach – and short-lived head coach – looks a little different than when he was stalking San Francisco’s sidelines. His trademark mustache is gone and he’s shed significant weight.
“My wife said, ‘Look, man. You look old and scraggly – get that off,’ ” Tomsula told Washington-area reporters in the summer.
The animation and enthusiasm that won over his 49ers pupils, however, remain firmly intact.
Even Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins has noticed an uptick in intensity from his defensive teammates.
“Players love him and he has a great demeanor about him, not only the practice field but just throughout the day in the building and in meetings,” Cousins said of Tomsula. “I think the guys play hard for him, they do what he says, they trust him to help them be successful. I think he’s just good for our team, for our chemistry, for our locker room, for morale.”
Said head coach Jay Gruden: “He has our defensive lineman playing at a much higher level then before, obviously.”
Gruden noted that Tomsula wasn’t a simple hire.
After he was fired by the 49ers following the 2015 season, Tomsula was a hard man to reach. He packed up and moved his family out of California and didn’t answer his phone in 2016, not even when schools and NFL teams called to offer coaching jobs. He continued to turn down interview requests in the run-up to Sunday’s game.
It turns out that he spent the year in Florida to be near a hospital that specializes in treating the type of diabetes his son was diagnosed with during the 2015 season. Tomsula signed a four-year, $14 million contract when he became the 49ers head coach, which means he’ll be paid by the team through next season.
Before McCloughan was relieved of his general manager duties in the offseason, he and Manusky – with whom Tomsula had worked for four seasons with the 49ers – helped bring him to the nation’s capital.
Gruden called Manusky and Tomsula a “package deal.”
“It wasn’t easy. It was not easy,” Gruden said. “I will tell you that. (Tomsula’s) not a guy who is going to call you right back after a call either. ... I had to wait a little while and be patient, but finally he called and had a great conversation with him. We flew him up here and had a good conversation with him, and we did what we could to get him and got him.”