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49ers Tight Ends Show Improvement

Posted Aug 20, 2013

Garrett Celek and Marqueis Gray are doing their best to improve their blocking ability.

It would be foolhardy to say that MarQueis Gray is now where Garrett Celek was a year ago.

Gray is competing for a 53-man roster spot in a way that Celek was in 2012, but consider that Gray is playing their tight end position for the first time in 2013.

The ex-college quarterback and the 49ers second-year pass-catcher do have one thing in common: They’re trying to fill the void left by Delanie Walker.

“Delanie being gone, that’s a huge gap that we’re trying to fill. He was a talented, talented player,” Celek said of his ex-teammate, now a Tennessee Titan through free agency. “We use the term ‘savvy’ a lot. He had a lot of savvy blocking guys. He knew the offense very well. He knew who was going to block who. That’s something I’m trying to understand, our blocking schemes and route concepts.

“I’m trying to fill that gap.”

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With Pro Bowler Vernon Davis entrenched and rookie Vance McDonald impressing and healthy – he returned to practice on Tuesday – San Francisco has given extended looks to Celek and Gray. All four are expected to play in the team's nationally-televised preseason game on Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

“They’ve gotten a lot of reps, a ton of opportunity there for them,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said before Tuesday’s practice. “Both of them are guys that have unique skill-sets. The tight end position is so unique. Each tight end can be so different from a skill-set standpoint.”

Asked to describe himself, Celek, who caught four balls in 13 games in his rookie campaign last season, said he is a mixture of all the ends’ best qualities. In Roman’s words: “Garrett’s a guy that’s kind of a got-to-be-able-to-do-everything-well kind of tight end.”

To that end, Celek has lined up at fullback and split out in addition to his usual landing spot alongside either offensive tackle. By learning other positions, he said he believes can play faster, knowing where his teammates will be on the field.

“I’m trying to be perfect on every single play,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference between last year. I can’t make rookie mistakes. I have to know what I’m doing.”

Gray would be forgiven for such lapses. Of his 47 games at the University of Minnesota, all were at quarterback or wide receiver. He is still finding out what kind of tight end he can become.

“It's a lot more physical and labor-intensive,” said Gray, who is focused on maintaining, not adding to his 250-pound frame. “I never had to block before. I have never really been in a three-point stance since Pee Wee. Coming to this level, where I’m going against the best day in and day out -- Ahmad (Brooks) and Aldon (Smith), those guys are the best at their position -- it’s something I will have to continue to work on. I know in the back in my head that it won’t come overnight.”

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For now, blocking precedes the reward: catching the football.

“Every time a pass play is called, that’s something I can look forward to," he said. "’Cause I’m used to catching the ball, and when it comes my way, I’m expected to catch the ball.”

Gray recorded his first NFL catch, a 13-yard grab, from B.J. Daniels on the 49ers penultimate – and eventually game-winning – drive on Friday in Kansas City. But it was his block on a Chiefs linebacker, knocking him two yards back on a Jewel Hampton power-run play, later in the series that was Daniel’s highlight.

“When I came to the sideline coach (Jim Harbaugh) praised me a little bit,” Gray said. “That felt good.”