This is my Saturday column.
Some say the 49ers suffered a damaging blow when the NFL suspended their No. 3 receiver, Jerome Simpson, for the first six games of 2015. Some say they showed no football wisdom in signing him, a player likely to be suspended.
I say forget Jerome Simpson. His absence will have zero impact.
He wasn’t the Niners No. 3 receiver, anyway – not in training camp, at least. He was an illusion. He never was going to be a big part of the Niners’ offense. They knew that all along. Their game plan has moved in an interesting new direction.
Want to know how many passes Simpson caught from starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick during 11-on-11 full-team scrimmages?
Ten other players — including four tight ends and three running backs — caught more than four passes thrown by Kaepernick during 11-on-11s. So, technically, Simpson was the Niners’ No. 11 receiver. He mostly worked with Blaine Gabbert and the second-string offense.
Forget Jerome Simpson.
Let’s talk about players who matter. Want to know who the Niners No. 3 receiver was, technically, during training camp?
Anquan Boldin. He caught 18 passes thrown by Kaepernick.
The No. 2 receiver was running back Carlos Hyde, who caught 19 passes thrown by Kaepernick.
And the No. 1 receiver was tight end Vernon Davis. He caught 23 passes thrown by Kaepernick.
That’s right — Davis was Niners’ the best receiver in camp. Davis might be a better receiver than the Niners two starting wide receivers, Boldin and Torrey Smith, who are both No. 1 receivers.
The Niners have three No. 1 receivers.
Forget Jerome Simpson.
Let’s talk about Davis, instead. He has become the focal point of the offense under new offensive coordinator, Geep Chryst. Under the old offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, Davis was a vestigial organ.
Roman had no clue how to keep Davis involved in the passing game. A lot of games Roman seemed not even to try. He’d use Davis just as a decoy to help other players get open.
Roman wasted four years of Davis’ prime.
Roman never understood he needed to get the ball into Davis’ hands early in the game to make Davis feel involved. The same principle exists in basketball. Get the big man some touches in the first quarter or risk losing him for the entire game.
If Roman didn’t get Davis touches early, sometimes Davis would seem to tune out and Roman would lose him for the entire game. Chryst knows how to get Davis involved. Chryst could resurrect Davis’ career.
This offseason during training camp, the first pass of practice frequently went to Davis.
Chryst frequently makes Davis line up in the slot as a wide receiver, and plays someone else at tight end.
Let’s see a cornerback try to cover Davis.
Chryst does a lot of smart things Roman didn’t do, aside from getting Davis involved and keeping him involved. For one, Chryst seems to have fixed the play-clock issues that vexed Roman season after season. Roman took forever just to call the plays. What was he doing up there in the coaches’ booth?
Chryst has the next play rolling off his tongue as the previous play is ending. He wastes no time.
And Chryst does another thing Roman didn’t do – he calls passing plays for the running back.
Roman would talk at his press conferences about wanting to throw passes to running backs, and then never would. Frank Gore caught 19 passes in 16 games last season.
If Roman still were the offensive coordinator, he would never use Reggie Bush, the running back the Niners signed this offseason. Bush is a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield – exactly what Roman doesn’t understand or appreciate.
Bush didn’t participate in team drills the first week and a half of training camp, but since returning he has been a focal point of the offense, like Davis. Some days Bush leads the team in catches and carries. This Tuesday he touched the ball 11 times in a little more than one hour.
In total, Bush, Hyde and fullback Bruce Miller caught 42 passes thrown by Kaepernick during training camp.
Any one of those three players can be a good No. 3 receiver for the Niners.
The 49ers passing attack isn’t less varied, less complex than last season’s. It has more dimensions.
The loss of Jerome Simpson was no loss at all. Forget Jerome Simpson.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.