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Wednesday, July 30, 2008
What to expect from Davis in 49ers' offense

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In recent weeks I've wondered how 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz might feature Vernon Davis in the passing game. Davis caught 52 passes playing for the NFL's worst offense last season. That number would figure to spike if the offense improved, but Martz has never featured the tight end. What to think?

Speaking with Martz this afternoon helped clear up some of the confusion. Davis' yards per reception should improve, but we shouldn't expect him to catch significantly more passes.

Martz is not going to abandon his offensive principles in a mad rush to funnel the ball to Davis or any other player. In general terms, he needs what most offensive coordinators need from the position: a combination of blocking and receiving. The difference with Davis is that he can threaten defenses farther down the field than other tight ends. Martz said he looks forward to exploiting that ability this season. Hence, the likely increase in yards per reception.

We should measure Davis by how well he blocks and by his ability to make plays downfield. He averaged an underwhelming 9.8 yards per reception last season. Niners great Brent Jones averaged 12.5 yards per reception in a very different offense. That is also what Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow averaged for his career. Jones and Winslow played in offenses featuring multiple weapons on the outside. Martz has praised the talent at receiver in San Francisco, but that doesn't mean much when Arnaz Battle and Ashley Lelie are missing practices.

As for Davis: We should not become preoccupied with the number of receptions. In fact, if Davis is catching a disproportionate number of passes, the offense might not be functioning very well.