San Francisco 49ers

Shades of 49ers’ past as Greg Roman gushes about Vernon Davis’ blocking

The down-field catches Vernon Davis made in 2013 have been few and far between this season.
The down-field catches Vernon Davis made in 2013 have been few and far between this season. AP

A day after Vernon Davis said he’d prefer to be making big catches in the 49ers’ passing game, the man calling the plays stressed how wonderful the tight end has been at throwing blocks.

“He’s blocking right now as good as he’s ever done,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. “What does that tell me about him as a professional? What does that tell me about him as a teammate? Man, it tells me everything I need to know because he’s had some really tough duty as far as blocking goes.”

Roman went on to say that Davis often gets the most onerous assignment on a given play, one that calls for him to block a defensive end and at a difficult angle.

“There are some blocks that are easy and some blocks that we say, ‘You have the sombrero on this block.’” Roman said. “One guy usually has the toughest down, and he has had a lot of those downs the past five, six games.”

On Wednesday, Davis made it clear that he wants to wear a different hat at times.

Against the Raiders on Sunday, he had a 23-yard catch on the 49ers’ touchdown drive in the first quarter. It was his longest reception since Week 1. But he caught just one more pass – for 3 yards – the rest of the game, which has been indicative of his season.

A year after he led the 49ers with 13 touchdown catches and finished with 850 receiving yards, Davis has two touchdowns and 236 yards with three regular-season games to play. Both scores came in Week 1 against the Cowboys.

The 49ers also have missed the deep downfield plays that Davis, 30, made in previous seasons. They have four pass plays of 40 yards or more this season. Only the Chiefs and Dolphins have fewer.

“For me, it’s all about coming here, showing up and doing what I have to do to contribute,” Davis said Wednesday. “As far as not getting the ball, (I) leave it up to the offensive coordinator. It’s his call.”

The issue is similar to the one Davis encountered in 2008 when Mike Martz was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator. Martz didn’t have much use for tight ends in his wide receiver-heavy offense, and Davis often was left at the line of scrimmage to help in pass protection. He finished with 358 receiving yards and two touchdowns that year.

Over his nine-year career, the only less productive season for Davis was his rookie year when he missed 61/2 games because of a broken leg.

Martz and then-head coach Mike Nolan heaped praise on Davis’ blocking ability in 2008 as well.

“I consider myself a playmaker,” Davis said during that frustrating season. “I want to help out as much as I can as far as catching passes. I mean, that’s what I’m here to do – make plays. And that’s what I want to do.”

Said Davis on Wednesday: “I look at myself as a playmaker, not just someone who’s blocking. I enjoy it. I would love to be involved a little bit more. I would love that. That would be amazing. But like I said, it’s out of my control. All I can do is come here, show up and take care of my responsibilities.”

In fairness to Roman and 49ers’ coaches, Davis has missed two games because of injury this season and was not at full strength in the games immediately following the back spasms he suffered Sept. 28. He also has six drops on the season.

Whether Davis is as good a blocker as he was earlier in his career also is debatable. According to the scouting service Pro Football Focus, Davis ranks 56th among NFL tight ends when it comes to blocking. During the previous three seasons, he ranked in the top 10 in that category.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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