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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Mailbag: Expectations for Vernon Davis

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GSW from San Francisco writes: What is the deal with VD [Vernon Davis]? Is it that the SF staff does not know how to use him or is it that he has been inconsistent within the offense. we all know he is a good blocker but with him being a top 10 draft pick we would expect to see a lot more production. Love what you are doing with the blogging. Keep up the good work.

Mike Sando: Davis is doing pretty much what Mike Martz said he would do. They expect him to make occasional big plays down the field. They do not expect him to be a focal point of the offense. That's a little unfortunate given how high the 49ers drafted him, but Martz can't worry about that if the offense is functioning well.

Davis caught 52 passes for 509 yards last season. He is on pace to catch 21 passes for 362 yards this season. That type of change would be an exaggeration of what we expected (fewer catches, more yards per catch).

Let's revisit what Martz said about Davis during the offseason:

"The numbers for Vernon, in terms of receptions, may or may not be there this year. It may fluctuate during the season. But what we expect from Vernon are big plays. He's a very, very substantial blocker, which really allows us to do a lot of good things in the running game. There's no question about that. But, when we get him the ball we'd like to get him the ball down the field or get him the ball in the shallow routes and let him take off with it, so to speak."

That is what we are seeing. Davis is averaging 17 yards per catch, up from 9.8 last season. He is getting the ball sporadically. He is factoring into the run game. He is opening up opportunities for others.


Adam from Sacramento writes: Sandman... I'm trying not to get too excited about JTO because it's only been 3 games but it's hard not to after seeing the huge improvement in the 49ers' offense this year. The guy seems to be more comfortable and poised than a player with his limited experience normally would be. I'm not saying he's a pro-bowler but he's showing a lot of potential to build on. I notice that I don't hold my breath expecting a pick whenever a 49er QB throws downfield anymore. It's a nice feeling after about 6 years of bad QB play. What are your thoughts on him so far?

Mike Sando: O'Sullivan has impressed me very much. He was such an unknown coming into the season. That made it hard to know how to evaluate the 49ers. Right now, they have to feel better about the position. It's a very positive start. The 49ers have become much more potent in the passing game, even on third-and-long.

Coming into the season, we would have expected Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger and possibly even Matt Leinart to be faring better than O'Sullivan. We could have made the case in April that Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis each had two quarterbacks who would win a competition against every 49ers quarterback in camp.

Seattle's injury situation at receiver explains what Hasselbeck is going through. We would rate O'Sullivan ahead of Bulger and Leinart now that both of those players have been benched.

It's still early. You're right about not getting too excited. Defenses are still getting a feel for O'Sullivan and the way Martz is using the 49ers' personnel. While it's true that the 49ers' offense should improve with time, opponents should be better prepared as well. I'll be very interested in seeing what the Patriots' defense does with O'Sullivan from a scheme standpoint.


Deric from Twin Falls, Idaho, writes: Bobby Engram's illness in 2006 held him to only 7 games for 290 yards, then after treatment he posted a 94 catch 1,147 yard season in 2007. So why did he not win comeback player of the year? I watched multiple plays in New England's game against Miami and saw the same player I saw in Oakland, a selfish, pouty, "whoa is me" type of player, it was this same attitude that Randy Moss supposedly came back from earn the honor of Come Back Player of the Year.

Randy just got put on a better team, with arguably the best quarterback to play the game, on one of the best teams to play the game, of course he would be happier now that he was getting spot on passes for TD's every week. So how does overcoming one's own attitude triumph a physical illness? Can you explain this? Or am I resigned to think that the NFL is truly becoming about popularity and not actual sportsmanship. Additionally I have to say your blog has brought me back to ESPN.com's site for Seahawks news, so keep it up man. Thanks.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Deric. Glad to have you here. Greg Ellis of the Cowboys was the AP's comeback player of the year, beating out Moss. Ellis and Moss played for high-profile teams that enjoyed better regular-season records. Engram deserved to be in the conversation. I would have a hard time saying Ellis wasn't worthy, though.


Demetrius from Sacramento writes: Why don't espn give any love to the 9ers. We are a feel good story but all love goes to ARZ&SEA

Mike Sando: Here you go.


Joe from Olympia writes: Mike, Is there any chance that the seahawks will try to sign Leroy Hill to a contract extension before he hits free agency?

Mike Sando: Yes. I would expect them to try to do that.


Ryan from Chandler, Ariz., writes: Sando, The 49ers performed well through the first 3 games and could be 3-0 if it wasn't for 5 turnovers against the Cards. The upcoming stretch doesn't look too good though. Is there a way we can squeak a win in aginst either the Saints, Pats or Iggles? Thanks, Ryan

Mike Sando: Saints, yes. Patriots, yes. Eagles, unlikely. That would be my feel right now. The 49ers have shown enough for me to think they can win one of those games.


Jeremy from Sacramento writes: Around the proverbial water-cooler in the office, we've talked recently about what system would best suit Alex Smith. As each offensive coordinator and head coach have styles that best suit them, getting the right quarterback in the right system will make an average QB look good, and a good QB look great. If every team in the league suddenly found themselves on the market, which HC/OC combo would make the best use of Alex Smith's skills? I believe he was in a spread-offense at Utah.

Mike Sando: Interesting question. I would pair Smith with Norv Turner for a few reasons. One, Turner is pretty low-key. His personality would seem to mesh with Smith's personality. Two, Turner worked well with Smith and was helping Smith improve during their time tog
ether. The spread offenses do make quarterback evaluation much tougher for scouts. The scouts must do more projecting than in the past, and that's tough.


Mike B. from Los Angeles writes: Sando, is it just me, or does this Billy McMullen guy get open, catch it when it's thrown to him, and just make plays? Is he a poor man's Bobby Engram in waiting? I know it's only two games, but he looks to me like a guy who has a future in Seattle, if not somewhere else.

Mike Sando: Keary Colbert would provide a more experienced option as far as possibly projecting for the Engram-type role. McMullen has definitely stepped up nicely. Let's see how he holds up. McMullen did well in camp with the Redskins despite an issue with knee tendonitis. Washington drafted two receivers among the top 51 overall choices, making it unlikely McMullen would get playing time. As a result, McMullen projected as a practice player. The question then became how well the knee would respond to practicing extensively every day. That led the Redskins to release a decent receiver.


Scott from Bremerton, Wash., writes: Sandman, A few quick highlights. Mike Wahle -- Played fantastic, 0 sacks allowed. I didn't see a missed assignment or block. Julius Jones -- His first-contact spin move is very impressive, and his ability to keep his feet moving in a crowd allows for his second and third effort yards. Deon Grant -- The lone standout for the first three games. His great play is just one more reason to look for Brian Russell to keep stepping his game up. The one thing that I saw that really bothered me was Josh Wilson not following the "Wedge" on kickoffs. This attributed a lot to our poor-to-average starting field position. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: Great calls for the most part. I'm not sure Grant has put together three great games. Too many big plays allowed against the 49ers. But there's no question Wahle and Jones are providing upgrades for Seattle. Wilson's reckless style is part of his game. He goes full bore without regard for what's in his way. It can be a strength and a liability, but it seems to be part of his identity right now.


KB from Seattle writes: Nice work on the blog Sando. Just wondering, once Hawks receivers Branch and Engram are healthy enough to play, what guys from their 'band-aid' group may be out of a job? Could it be the feel good Koren Robinson story ends before it ever really begins?

Mike Sando: That would make sense, particularly because Robinson is not healthy. Seattle has seven receivers on its roster now. That's one more than the typical maximum. I think Robinson will have to make strides quickly to become a factor.


Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, all this discussion about JT O'Sullivan and the franchise tag is nice, but do you really think there is any chance it will come to that? If he does manage enough success this year (stats and wins) to warrant resigning, don't you think they would be able to come to terms on a deal, possibly with escalators in the contract to reward O'Sullivan if he were to continue to be successful, that would be palatable to both team and player?

Mike Sando: Yeah, most likely. But the 49ers could not strike a deal with him before March 2. Free agency will have started by then. The risk would be a little higher.


Mr. Zero from Alameda, Calif., writes: Hi Mike, who knew Guest could come up with a great question like he did about the franchise tag? Your answer makes me believe the 49ers will have to franchise JTO if he has a solid year. If they wind up in that situation, are there any other players on the team set to become FA's that could make the decision a tough one to make?

Mike Sando: Not that I can see. I went through the list and didn't see anyone who would rise to that level. Eric Heitmann is a starter, but not a quarterback.


Pat from Seattle writes: Which is faster, a Quick Take, or a Rapid Reaction?

Mike Sando: Both have good speed, but the Rapid Reactions have been faster. Through three weeks, the Rapid Reactions have been reserved for games we have staffed in person. I think we'll use Rapid Reactions for all games in the future, just to avoid confusion with Quick Takes.


Guest 49er from the Bay Area writes: Something is wrong with your forum. I can't post anything and what I said just got deleted. As contested as the topic was, I certainly did not insult or threaten anybody, and this is the thanks I get from a forum that censors a viewpoint? Better look into this problem for I did not start anything. I have a right to disagree with how my team has performed and if a team can only beat a bad team, that is not improvement, period. I do not deserve to be banned if I have been banned from this site. Please look into this problem.

Mike Sando: I'm not aware of your situation but it is possible for other users to flag comments as offensive. This can increase the likelihood of a comment being deleted.