Davis destined to become top 2007 target?

There's little question RB Frank Gore will enter the upcoming season as the 49ers' No. 1 offensive threat. But based on the team's offseason program, TE Vernon Davis might not be far behind. A phenomenal physical specimen that entered the NFL amid huge expectations in 2006, Davis appears on the precipice of making a significant impact in his second season after an injury-riddled rookie debut.

Davis showed remarkable improvement over last season during the team's organized team activities in June, as he appeared to become quarterback Alex Smith's favorite target. Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft, missed eight starts with a broken leg as a rookie. But he came on strong toward the end of the season, finishing with 20 receptions for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

At 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, Davis possesses blazing speed for the position. He is a tough match-up for safeties and almost impossible to cover for even the fastest linebackers. He is a constant threat to get behind safeties when he gets single coverage up the middle.

But last season, Davis often did not show all of his physical attributes because he was unsure of his assignments. And after coming out after his junior season at the University of Maryland, his game was raw in several areas.

But Davis has worked hard to get down the mental aspect of the game.

"He knows what he has to do," Smith said. "Now he can think about his release, about setting up this route, think about zone or man (coverage). That really helps. He's progressed quite a bit the last couple weeks."

Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer also singled out Davis as the player who made the biggest strides during the offseason program. The most polished part of Davis' game as a rookie was his blocking. Now, he appears ready to be a presence in the passing attack.

That's good news for the Niners, since blocking was supposed to be the weakness in his game after he was drafted. Everybody knows he has the physical talent to succeed - and succeed in a big way.

"Physically, he's so gifted," Dilfer said, "but when you're playing unsure of yourself, you don't capitalize on those abilities. ... He's catching the ball a lot better. As he becomes more instinctive and thinking less, you're going to see his ability come out. He's been real impressive."

Coach Mike Nolan has seen the polish in Davis' game, but Nolan is not the type to get too jacked up about how a player looks in shorts and helmets during the spring. Still, Nolan - not one for hyperbole - remains almost awestruck by the potential Davis presents.

When SFI asked Nolan during OTAs if Davis still required some polish to his game, the coach replied, "A little bit, but he's still (learning). He's got an awful lot of talent. He doesn't have a little bit, he's got a lot and he just needs to continue to hone his skills as a football player."

Nolan didn't stop there in extolling Davis' virtues.

"He works very hard and he's very committed and very dedicated," Nolan continued. "Vernon is a good kid. He does a good job. Everything looks bright ahead of him, as long as he just keeps working like he is. I've got a lot of confidence that he's just going to get better all of the time, but he does have a lot of talent and the more he learns how to use that as a tight end, he'll just get better and better."

Although the 49ers have yet to see receiver Darrell Jackson on the practice field due to a lingering turf-toe injury, the club expects him to be ready for the opening of training camp in late July. Jackson is expected to give the 49ers' offense another threat, and he'll combine with newcomer Ashlie Lelie and holdover veteran Arnaz Battle as San Francisco's top three wideouts entering training camp.

Along with third-round draft pick Jason Hill and a host of others, that trio promises to give San Francisco its best corps of wide receivers since Terrell Owens left town after the 2003 season.

But those receivers could be playing second fiddle to San Francisco's tight end if Davis continues his emergence once the season begins.

The new model for the 49ers' offense, Dilfer said, is the San Diego Chargers.

"They have the best back in the league, they have the best tight end in the league, and they run the same system we use," Dilfer said of running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. "Like Gates is their No. 1, Vernon can be that here. I don't know if San Diego has a Darrell Jackson. Darrell is going to be valuable weapon for us."

And offensive weapons are something the 49ers have in stock these days. Davis in particular.


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