New role for Davis? Raye plans to use him as pass target

There is a logical reason tight end Vernon Davis saw his total of receptions plummet from a respectable 52 catches in 2007 to a meager 31 last season.

A large percentage of the time, Davis was kept in for his pass-protection skills. In fact, Davis was the intended target of just 49 passes all season — making it mathematically impossible for him to match his catch total of the previous year.

 

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said he plans for that to change this season. Raye said he wants to utilize Davis‘ vertical speed to create problems for defenses. He wants his contributions in the passing game to come as a receiver – not a blocker.

 

“He’s also an excellent in-line blocker,” Raye said, “but we would like to use him not as much in blocking in pass situations as we would running routes. So we would like to put him in positions where he is a matchup problem for the defense . . . provided the protection that we have will allow us to do that.”

 

This is not exactly a novel concept. We’ve heard Norv Turner, Jim Hostler and Mike Martz all say the same things about Davis in previous seasons. Only Hostler really seemed to make it a priority to get the ball to Davis.

 

In ’07 with Hostler calling plays, Davis was the team’s second-leading receiver, one reception behind Frank Gore.

 

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The 49ers’ offense opened 11-on-11 in the afternoon session with a trick play that went for a 20-yard TD. Shaun Hill threw a backward pass to Josh Morgan, who then fired to Dominique Zeigler in the end zone.

 

On the next pass play, Hill hooked up with Delanie Walker, who had beaten linebacker Jeff Ulbrich down the middle of the field.

 

Later, Hill tried to get pass to Davis in the back of the end zone. Takeo Spikes tipped the pass, and Davis made the adjustment to catch the ball. However, secondary coach Johnnie Lynn, who was standing behind the end zone was adamant that Davis was out of bounds.

 

Both quarterbacks looked as good as they have this offseason. Both completed a high percentage of their red-zone passes, mostly underneath. On one of Smith’s few incomplete passes, he tried to get the ball deep into coverage for Walker but overthrew it. As soon as he pass fell to the ground, he looked to Frank Gore in the right flat and motioned that he should’ve hit him with the safer pass.

 

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In the morning practice, Alex Smith and cornerback Dre’ Bly had very strong showings.

 

Bly jumped routes to break up three passes during a 7-on-7 session. Isaac Bruce described Bly as a “gambler type of cornerback.” Bruce said, “You need that in this league.” Bruce said teams cannot afford to have cornerbacks who allow the opposition to complete easy passes underneath for three-quarters of a game. He said Bly is not afraid to take some chances.

 

Smith threw the ball extremely well. His accuracy today was better than in previous days I’ve seen him this offseason, as he routinely placed the ball in easy-to-catch spots. During a passing drill and a team session, Smith completed nine of 12 passes. Earlier during a period when it was just receivers and corners on the field, he connected with Mark Bradford on a beautifully thrown deep ball against rookie Jahi Word-Daniels.

 

Shaun Hill completed a lower percentage of his passes, but he and Delanie Walker teamed up for the best play of the day when he hit Delanie Walker on stride down the right sideline. Walker made a sensational one-handed catch against the coverage of linebacker Marques Harris.

 

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Receiver Isaac Bruce is not the most verbal player on the team. He said the best way for the younger receivers to learn from him is to watch him.

 

“When I came in, there were guys who had been in the league for a while, guys like Flipper Anderson, and if I was interested in being a good receiver in the NFL, I think he was a good guy that I could watch,” Bruce said. “I didn’t really have to talk to him, I could just watch what he did and just do the same things that he did and get the same results. So, if I’m a mentor, I’ll be that. If I’m not, I’m not.”

 

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Offensive tackle Barry Sims sat out most of practice with a right knee strain, but a club spokesman said Sims is expected to practice Sunday.

 

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