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Vernon Davis on 49ers offseason workouts: 'I want to get better'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Technically, Vernon Davis never called his staying away from the San Francisco 49ers all of last offseason a holdout. But that's just picking nits.

The two-time Pro Bowl tight end was trying to make a point last summer by staying away from all workouts, voluntary and mandatory, and, many would say, karma got the best of him as he hoped for a new contract.

It never came.

Because while Davis did show up in time for the beginning of training camp, he suffered through his worst season as an NFL player. In fact, a joint project by ESPN.com and Pro Football Focus deemed Davis one of three "bad" players on the Niners roster last year, along with receiver Michael Crabtree, who is now the Oakland Raiders' concern, and rookie center Marcus Martin.

So guess who was among the first to show up in the shadow of Levi's Stadium when the 49ers began the first phase of their offseason workout program last week?

"I'm here this year because I want to get better," Davis said. "I want to win. I want to develop some chemistry among my teammates and get to know guys. There are a lot of new guys here and you just never know when this game is over for you.

"Patrick Willis put everything in perspective for a lot of guys around here with him retiring. That just gave me some insight and it put a good taste in my mouth as far as my approach towards the game and just giving this game all I can give it."

Davis was far from the lone Niners offensive player to have a subpar season in 2014, but given his résumé, it might have been the most glaring and precipitous drop off.

Consider: Davis had 13 touchdown receptions in 2013, only two last year. And none since Week 1. He was not even targeted in the red zone since the opening victory at the Dallas Cowboys.

Davis' 26 receptions were his fewest since his rookie season of 2006 and his 9.4 yards per catch average, was a career low.

All this after quarterback Colin Kaepernick sang Davis' praises after he ended his non-holdout and reported for camp.

"Vernon's a Pro Bowl tight end…one of the best in the league," Kaepernick said at the time. "There's not going to be too much of a falloff for him. I don't think anyone is concerned about that. We're just happy he's here.

"Vernon is not the type of person that's going to walk out on his team like that. He's a good guy. He's done a lot for this organization, and he's made a lot of great plays for us."

But something more tangible than karma may have been working against Davis. He was also bitten by the injury bug early and often.

If it wasn't a tweaked left ankle and knee, Davis' back got balky on him and slowed his prodigious speed.

That was not an issue, though, when he ran routes and caught some passes from Kaepernick last week, as if they were reintroducing themselves to each other in a "Hey, remember me," manner.

"He's just relentless," Davis said of Kaepernick. "He just wants to be great. And I respect that, and that's another reason why I'm in this building today."

And while new coach Jim Tomsula would not allow Davis and Kaepernick to answer a question about how different the atmosphere was under Tomsula compared to last year under Jim Harbaugh -- "They don't have to go there," Tomsula said, before either player could speak. "They don't need to compare anything." -- Davis did speak earlier of the environment in general.

"I think it's a good vibe," Davis said. "The energy around here is fantastic. Like coach just said, guys don't want to leave. I mean, I'm here. I'm still here. Normally I'd be out of here, but I just feel some great energy and working with the guys has just been great.

"I'm just having a great time here just learning as much as I possibly can from the new staff and just taking it all in and just enjoying it."

Which is a totally different experience from a year ago.