Davis ready for time to shine in prime time

This is Vernon Davis' time, and perhaps the best thing about the 49ers' second-year phenom is his confident bluntness and bluster. The young tight end doesn't believe there's any limit to what he can accomplish this season, and he eagerly awaits the challenges ahead, beginning with Monday's opener vs. Arizona. "I want to go out there, me and my team, and just abuse these guys," Davis said Tuesday.

A lot of young NFL players say those kinds of things, before they learn better to temper their comments as their careers advance. But the thing about Davis is, he has the physical tools to back it up and make it happen.

And if he says what's on his mind, in matter-of-fact even tones and with no disrespect intended, well … that's just Vernon Davis.

"It's just about being you," Davis said when SFI asked him Tuesday about his brash attitude. "Everybody doesn't have that, that intensity. Everybody just don't have that. It's just something I have. It's a confidence thing and it's a good swagger to have."

And, boy, does it ever fit Davis as he enters his second NFL season – a season during which many are expecting the No. 6 overall selection in the 2006 draft to emerge as one of the league's young stars at his position.

"I think that's pretty accurate," Davis said, not intending to brag, just telling it like it is, at least from his viewpoint. "I just take it as a compliment. I mean, you're playing and playing every snap … you're out there all season … if you catch enough (passes) and you get yards after the catch and things like that, and guys are scared to tackle you because you're bigger than them, it just talks and speaks for itself, you know?"

And if you don't know, Davis won't be shy in telling you.

But that's what it's like for a guy with his gift of physical talent. Davis has rare speed, power and athleticism for a man who packs 253 chiseled pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame that can cover 40 yards in 4.4 seconds.

He also has an ego to fit those ample proportions, but isn't that what being great is all about? Davis is in a hurry to get there, and he knows there is only one route to take. He's of the mentality there is not anything he can't do on a football field.

"That's how you've gotta feel," he said. "You've got to think that way. Like coach says, you gotta believe and you've got to have the confidence. If you have the confidence and the belief that no one can stop you, then they won't."

Davis is shaping up as a guy who could be very difficult for opponents to stop this season. He was the star of San Francisco's offseason program this year, and in many ways the finer details of the game are starting to kick in after a full 16 months in the San Francisco program.

And then there's the factor of talent around him.

With Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore in the San Francisco backfield and an upgraded receiver corps to occupy defenders, Davis doesn't see how he can be stopped when he's isolated in one-on-one coverage.

"I don't care who it is," Davis said. "I have enough confidence in myself to know that anybody who matches up against me, I'm going to win. I'm going to win, no matter what the route is, because I'm going to use my speed, and I'm going to use my size and ability.

"That's what I was taught in camp and during the offseason. I was taught, and I trained myself and I trained my mind to just win, to win every battle, one-on-one. Because in this game, that's what you want, you want a one-on-one battle."

Davis is sure to find some of those one-on-one battles this year, and that's something San Francisco opponents will try to avoid as much as possible. Davis is a nightmare match-up for opposing defenses because of his tremendous speed, power to break tackles and ability to run after the catch. Despite his size – he's big enough to be a very capable blocker in San Francisco's run game – Davis is as fast as many NFL receivers.

Davis is itching to make big improvement from his abbreviated rookie season, when he missed six games and barely played in another after breaking his right leg last September.

But Davis returned in late November and displayed some of the skills and play-making ability that made him one of the most touted tight end prospects ever to enter the league. He finished with a 13.3 average on 20 receptions, including a 52-yard touchdown reception against Green Bay in Week 14 and a tackle-breaking 44-yard catch-and-run against Arizona in Week 16.

"Vernon has some exceptional and rare physical talents," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He is very strong, very explosive, he can jump, he can catch – he can do a lot of things. But it's really about production in the game. When he gets in that category, in production, that's when you get excited about somebody. We're still working on that."

Davis had a career-high 91 yards receiving against the Cardinals in that Christmas Eve game last year. But like the rest of his teammates, he came away from that defeat with a sour taste. Not only did it eliminate the upstart 49ers from playoff contention, it also was San Francisco's fourth consecutive loss to its NFC West rival from Arizona.

That adds even more meaning to an already pivotal Monday night opener.

"We're going to bring everything we've got," Davis said. "I know I am."

And what Davis has got is a lot more than at this time last season. There are plenty of reasons, he said, to expect that he'll take his game to the next level in his sophomore NFL season.

"I was just thrown out there last year," Davis said. "I didn't have a good understanding of route running. Now I do. I've grown. I've come a long way. I've learned how to run routes. Things have really slowed down a lot for me and I can go out and just play now. It's going to be exciting."

Despite the offseason addition of veterans Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie to San Francisco's receiver corps this year, Davis potentially could become the top target in San Francisco's passing game for quarterback Alex Smith.

Already there is talk of Davis becoming the first tight end in San Francisco's 62-year history to record 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Eric Johnson, Davis' backup last season, holds the team records for a tight end with 82 receptions and 825 receiving yards.

Of course, that's one of several goals Davis has as he prepares for the season. He wants all the things that come to gifted athletes that work hard. But that's not to say he's selfish by any means.

Despite his emotional flair and yearning for the spotlight, Davis is a team player. And that means as much to him as any individual record or accolade he may attain in the future.

"I expect myself to be a leader on the team," Davis said. "I expect myself to be a leader by making plays, being a contributor, laying everything on the line to help the team win – no matter what it is. I've got to go out from the start and just do it."

And so far in his football career, Davis has been pretty good at fulfilling what he sets out to do.


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