Sammy on the spot

Sammy Davis, step right on up. That's not exactly a novel undertaking for the fourth-year cornerback, even though the former first-round draft pick spent the past two seasons stepping down and out of the San Diego Chargers' starting lineup. But Davis will be back as a starter with his new team Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, and this is his shot to show the 49ers what he really has got.

The Niners have been pleased with Davis since he arrived earlier this spring in the trade for wide receiver Rashaun Woods, and now he has worked his way up the depth chart to become San Francisco's third corner, which means he gets the starting call now that Shawntae Spencer is out with a hamstring strain, an injury that is likely to keep the 49ers' best cornerback out for the remainder of the exhibition season.

Though the 49ers have several other young players who are vying for playing time at cornerback, three of which were with the team last year, Davis has moved past them because of the polish and aggressiveness he has shown since joining the squad.

"I hope to show that I belong and that I can play and be counted on, and that I'm a playmaker," Davis said Thursday.

Davis got a chance to do that immediately at the beginning of his career after the Chargers drafted him out of Texas A&M with the 30th overall selection in the 2002 draft. He started all 16 games of his rookie season, then held that status during San Diego's AFC West championship season in 2004 until a hairline fracture in his left leg knocked him out for a month near the end of the season.

But by last season, Davis was falling out of favor in San Diego, and though he started four games, the Chargers lost confidence in his ability and felt he was expendable.

When SFI asked what happened in San Diego and if Davis felt he got the opportunity he should have there, Davis responded, "Yes and no. I think I was blessed to have some opportunity there, but it probably wasn't the same as everybody else. I guess the coaches wanted to go a different way. I guess they thought another guy would be a better fit. I think I played OK, but then I also had problems. But that's like with any other corner in the league. They're going to go through ups and downs and they're going to make plays. That's how I was."

The Chargers opted not to give Davis any more time to mature in their secondary, sending him to the 49ers in April in a straight-up trade for Woods, a deal that still is reverberating in San Francisco because of the steal it turned out to be for the Niners, who were looking to get anything they could for the disappointing Woods, who was sure to be dumped from the roster at some point this summer. Woods, San Francisco's first-round pick in 2004, didn't make it a week into training camp before the Chargers released him at the beginning of August.

"What trade?" coach Mike Nolan said deadpan. "I felt it was good for us, they must have felt it was good for them, but ours is still holding up. I just know they were willing to trade for our guy, and he didn't last long with them."

Davis is in it for the long haul with the 49ers, as long he doesn't implode now that he'll be going the rest of the preseason against front-line players. The 49ers still are determining exactly where Davis fits into their plans, and there's no better way to find out than the look they'll be getting with Davis in the starting lineup Sunday - and probably the rest of the preseason as long as he holds up.

Davis said the trade in April "was something that I wanted to happen, and once it happened I was excited about it. I was just able to get that fresh start. (The 49ers) told me that I'd be able to come in and compete and just let the chips fall. I think I've made a lot of progress. I've been able to make a lot of plays, been able to get out there with the ones and twos and just make a lot of things happen."

Davis had a strong preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, recording two tackles and also forcing a fumble on the third play of the game - he was in as a nickel back on third down - that the 49ers recovered and turned into a field goal for their first points on the way to a 28-14 victory.

"Sammy's competing, and that's big," Nolan said. "He's challenging guys. Sammy physically is very competent. He's got decent size, good range and good coverage ability. He's certainly been an upgrade from last year and has also added a lot of competition at the position for us. It always helps that you have more experience out there and he's got experience playing in NFL games."

That experience came with the Chargers, whom Davis very well could be starting against when San Diego comes to San Francisco on Sept. 1 for the preseason finale for both teams. The 49ers and Chargers also meet in San Francisco during the regular season on Oct. 15.

"That's going to be a big motivator for me," Davis said. "I'm looking forward to those two games."

But first thing's first. That's Sunday in Oakland, where Davis makes his first start as a 49er. He'd like it to be the first of many.

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