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Nice Tight Fit

May 18, 2006 at 9:46 AM

The 2006 San Francisco 49ers showboated the new generation of newly acquired talent from the 2006 NFL draft this past week as mini-camps were held throughout the league.

Maryland’s Vernon Davis the most coveted all-around purpose tight end in the NFL draft put on a show like no other as he got behind veteran safety Keith Lewis on a post pattern, and seemingly vaulted into the air and took the ball away from the veteran as the ball arrived in their vicinity.

Vernon Davis though wasn’t without fault having nervously dropped many balls as he became acquainted with the overall atmosphere of his new surroundings and began making repetitions with the personnel he’ll begin to build relationships with both on and off the field.

What many scouts had been saying about Vernon Davis and still are is that he has the overall speed and build of an elite wide receiver and will be one of the most sought after to cover receiving threats in the league all by his lonesome.

Vernon Davis commands respect as he weighs 254 and can out bench press even this year’s top-rated offensive lineman, 312-pound D’Brickashaw Ferguson. His 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash elevate him in a tie for the eighth-fastest player in this draft, regardless of any position.

On top of all that rates Vernon Davis as the No. 7 overall prospect, when compared to the top-rated wide receiver in Florida’s Chad Jackson at No. 17. He has better hands, better sense of direction and is a heck of a lot more durable.

The possibilities are endless for what Vernon Davis can bring to this offense of ours, which is piloted by Alex Smith himself. He instantly provides that scenario that Antonio Gates has provided in San Diego and Tony Gonzalez has been able to achieve in Kansas City.

This guy is a freak of nature in almost every sense of the word as an athlete and is sending shockwaves throughout the league even before we get to see this talent out on the field. He will compete alongside veteran tight end Eric Johnson for the limelight and both of them will command significant attention from the enemy defense on a weekly basis.

“He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body,” Baltimore Ravens college director Eric DeCosta said. “He can do everything you want a tight end to do, but you can also split him out wide. He’s a unique guy from a game-planning standpoint. In the right system, with a team that really wants to use his gifts, he could be unstoppable.”

The tale of the tape on Maryland’s Vernon Davis speaks for itself. He has been compared to Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts. But he has also commanded the stage in so many ways because of his ability to be the most complete tight end in this draft.

The prototypical tight end in this league must have the size and strength to open holes in the running game and the hands and combined speed to be used as a reliable receiving threat as well. When you look at most team’s throughout the NFL, the one thing they don’t have is a tight end that can do it all. Most employ two tight ends that specialize in either receiving or blocking but today I am here to tell you that we have both.

Maryland’s Vernon Davis No.#6 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft stands at 6-3, weighs 254 pounds and ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Hands: He has soft hands and catches the ball very well. He is a tenacious receiver. Has a big vertical leap. He wins on jump balls and is able to make acrobatic catches at will.

Patterns: He has a complete understanding of how the passing game is played. He knows how to beat both man and zone coverage. Has elite speed for his position. He has the ability to stretch defenses but is willing to play in short and intermediate zones of play. He has the ability to turn short routes into long gains. Shows excellent burst to create separation in the open field.

Run after the catch: His elite speed makes him a scoring threat every time his hands touch the ball. He is most elusive and can make defenders miss by outrunning most that are covering him.

Release: He is very quick off the line and shows significant burst that keeps defenders away. He can struggle a bit should defenders find a way to lock on to him. His very combination of quickness and athleticism creates mismatches most all the time though.

Blocking: This is his only weakness but is improving. He is able to get to the second level but struggles to hit linebackers. He displays great strength but doesn’t always use his hands well and has trouble at the point of attack. Has to improve his technique. He would work best as a halfback or as a motion tight end that wouldn’t have to block as much.

Bottom line: Vernon Davis is the real deal at this position. He has the prototypical size, strength and outstanding speed for this position.

In Santa Clara at a press conference convened to highlight the two first round picks by the 49ers, North Carolina State’s Manny Lawson had this to say about Maryland’s Vernon Davis: “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Manny Lawson began, “but I was hoping that we’d somehow get to this question that I have. Have you heard of any reports or ways to stop this guy? Because I have to cover this guy in practice, and I don’t want to come home feeling embarrassed.”

This is an athlete that instantly commands respect among his college brethren and is now generating outstanding concern with defensive coordinators around the league. I believe that the San Francisco 49ers took the best available athlete at the No. #6 position on draft day. Vernon Davis is the playmaker we have been in search of since Terrell Owens packed his bags and left via Philadelphia.

“I heard of Vernon Davis three games before we were going to play them; the guy that can lift the weight room and is not as fast as the wind but faster than the wind,” Lawson said. 'I’m very fortunate I didn’t have to go up against his blocking prowess. Every time he was on my side, he went out for a pass, so I’m thanking God for that. I might not be here.”

In a neighborhood riddled with the presence of drugs and gang violence Vernon Davis grew up under the tutelage of his grandmother. He credits his grandmother for taking him to church, teaching him right from wrong, providing words of wisdom and keeping him in check. There came a day he inherited his nickname, “Little Duke,” from his father they called “Duke.”

Once in Virginia, the media tagged on “The” and dropped the “Little.”

“I’ve actually come to like it,” said Davis. “Living up to a nickname like “The Duke,” though, means living up to my Dad and to my high standards. That means being the best: Nothing less.”

The competition at tight end for the 49ers is sure to be one that will generate a lot of interest. Often injured veteran Eric Johnson is just coming off a season-ending plantar fascia tear that eliminated him for the entire 2005 season. He had a career year in 2004 with 82 receptions for 825 yards and two touchdowns and it raised his status among the league’s best in the class of tight ends.

Now along comes Vernon Davis who by all means will push the bar to the fullest to capture the starting status. Eric Johnson took part in mini-camps this past week and knows very well that all eyes and ears are upon him to step up.

The devastating blow last year when Eric Johnson was lost for the season also had negative results for Eric as he was forced to watch his teammates struggle all season long without his presence out on the field.

“It was the worst,” recalled Johnson. “It went from only a 2-3 week injury to going out there and testing it and completely rupturing it which ended the entire season for me, so of course it was devastating to me not to be in there playing.”

With the 2005 injury came worry and that worry turned Eric Johnson to meet with Mike Nolan and explain his case in the sense that he wanted to return to work. Nothing humbles a player quicker than being put on injured reserve and watching either your team struggle all season or anticipating someone just proven to take your place.

“I hadn’t been involved as much and I just wanted to make it clear to coach because he expresses that he likes to have open communication that I’m on board and real excited to be a 49er,” said Johnson. “After a year of not playing when you want to prove yourself and then you can’t, I just wanted him to know I was going to work hard with the team and be here with the guys and bonding with my teammates and getting ready for this year.”

Durability comes into play once you think back on the injuries that he has sustained over the course of his tenure here as a 49er. Normal coaches would question this over a period of time and it is expected to continue until the pre-season shows itself. Johnson has spent two of his three seasons as a 49er on injured reserve due to a broken collarbone the first time and now the tear in his foot the second time.

“They were two random injuries,” said Johnson. “The first was the collarbone which I didn’t have control over. I got hit really hard and I think anyone who had gotten hit right in the spot I did probably would have broken their collarbone. The foot, to myself I say I had bad luck. I’m going to do everything I can to be injury free in the future and move on.”

If anyone can remember that Eric Johnson was a bright star as a tight end out of Yale that ended up being drafted in the seventh round as Bill Walsh’s very last draft pick as a general manager back when he was still at the helm. Some still see Johnson as being the odd man out with the appearance of Vernon Davis now in the mix.

But history tells us something different as Norv Turner the new offensive coordinator starts his first season as the mastermind behind the anemic 49er offense of the past. He will look at Eric Johnson teaming with Vernon Davis in two tight end sets that will keep opposing defenses off balance.

“I was able to see Eric run routes and he has very quick feet, he’s very quick out of the break, very sudden with his routes and he caught the ball extremely well so as those guys come along and learn the offense, there’s a great opportunity to have two tight ends in the game at once,” said Turner at the end of mini-camp.

“That’s the thing that has impressed me most about this offensive unit. There are a lot of guys who do numerous things well so there is a real flexibility which makes us that much harder to defend.”

The tight end position last season was virtually non-existent in all forms and manners. In Eric Johnson’s absence with an injury for the 2005 season, tight ends Billy Bajema, Terry Jones and Trent Smith combined for only 17 receptions for 137 yards and zero touchdowns.

Some of this of course can be attributed to San Francisco’s very weak passing attack, which ranked last place in the NFL with an average of just 118.6 yards per game. So to change that direction Mike Nolan is vigorously trying to find the five best receivers he can produce out on the playing field.

If Eric Johnson and Vernon Davis both tight ends turn out to be two of those five then they will see a lot of playing time. The quality is definitely there and the history of both players will play out on the field once the season is upon us.

When you look at the tight end picture for the San Francisco 49ers and who is on the roster, the question marks are raised on Terry Jones and Billy Bajema both of who will be playing to primarily win back-up roles at this position.

Obviously the 49ers are looking at Vernon Davis to spark something here and even force the wide receivers to play up to higher expectations based upon his amazing abilities as a receiver himself. Davis could in fact become the superman among tight ends in the NFL for a long time to come.

I am so excited to have this freak of nature among us and for us to be thrilled to death as he finds the end zone this coming season again and again. I would be even more excited if Eric Johnson returns to his 2004 NFL form and is able to compliment Davis with maybe the best two tight end set in the history of the NFL.

Norv Turner has the charisma and talent to pull this off folks. Don’t count him out on this amazing idea to force the defenses to confound itself in several real brain twisters that will keep them guessing to our favor.

Mike Nolan has already stated that he feels the talent he has at his disposal right now is equivalent to more wins in the win column come this season. Mini-camps and training camp will be foundations of expected changes to take place right before our eyes. I have come away confident as a fan that we are so in tune to where we are going now so more than ever.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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