Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

With Vernon Davis dealing with a knee injury, his potential absence might cause a shift in the 49ers' offense

Vernon Davis' injury status may have a drastic impact on the look of the 49ers offense Sunday.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is dealing with a knee injury sustained last week in Arizona, leaving his status up in the air for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

After missing the first two days of practice this week, Davis walked off the practice field at the start of team drills Friday.

"We’ll see how he’s moving around," Tomsula said before practice. "We feel good enough to get him out there, so we’ll see. I don’t want to make any proclamations."

After practice, the 49ers officially tabbed Davis "doubtful" for Sunday's game. If he can't play, it might spark a shift in offensive philosophy for coordinator Geep Chryst.

The 49ers have used multiple tight end sets on 64 percent of their offensive plays, according to Pro Football Focus, including three-tight ends sets on 31 percent of their plays. If Davis can't play, Vance McDonald, Blake Bell and Garrett Celek will be the 49ers' available tight ends.

San Francisco is expecting the return of running back Reggie Bush and receiver Bruce Ellington, who each missed the last two games with a calf and ankle injury, respectively. Having them active could alter Chryst's game plan. The 49ers enter Sunday with the league's lowest scoring offense. Moving away from the tight-end heavy approach may be for the better.

Why have the 49ers been so reliant on their tight ends? They help in the running game as blockers, and provide more versatility than receivers. However, the passing game ranks 30th in the NFL and could use a spark. Bush and Ellington are two rare 49ers that can create mismatches for opposing defenses.

"Coming out training camp, we felt really great about (the tight end group) and still feel the same way," Tomsula said. "(I) think it's a talented group, think it's a group that does some really good things for us."

Davis is Colin Kaepernick's second-most targeted pass catcher (15) behind receiver Anquan Boldin (19). He has eight catches for 109 yards with and no touchdowns. Celek, the team's third tight end, has eight catches on nine targets while McDonald has been used almost exclusively as a blocker.

"Our tight ends have caught some footballs," Tomsula said. "Now, maybe not as deep as you wanted it. Maybe you're thinking about one particular person that people might spend extra time on. But other guys have caught the ball out of that room."

Tomsula was obviously referencing Davis, whose 62-yard performance Week 2 in Pittsburgh was his highest total since Dec. 2013 against Tampa Bay. He simply hasn't been the same deep threat he was that season, when he made 13 touchdown catches and averaged 16.3 yards per catch.

The 49ers' reliance on the running game has been evident in two of their first three games. Carlos Hyde was the star of the season opener when he ran for 168 yards and two scores. In last week's drubbing in Arizona, Tomsula had the offense abandon the passing game for most of a 13-play stretch after Kaepernick threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns on his first two possessions.

With Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers' explosive offensive Sunday, the 49ers might have to air it out if they fall behind early for a third-straight week.

Bush, who entered the season as the active leader among running backs in receptions, was brought in to add a wrinkle in the passing game after the 49ers mostly ignored their running backs in the passing game over the last few seasons. However, Tomsula doesn't believe Bush's absence vindicates his struggling offense.

"We don't have any excuses like that," Tomsula said, when asked his offense was handicapped without Bush. "We're not handicapped. We haven't been handicapped."


Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.

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