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Vernon Davis Leads Young Tight Ends

Posted Aug 14, 2012

With an offense as creative and complex as Greg Roman’s, it takes a special kind of player to flourish at the tight end position. Good thing the 49ers have Vernon Davis.

Entering his seventh season with the franchise, Davis and the offense are reaping the benefits of continuity on the coaching staff, as this year marks the first of his career where he’s had the same offensive coordinator for two consecutive seasons.

Davis grabbed the spotlight in last year’s playoffs with his spectacular catches in the game’s biggest moments, but it’s his daily work ethic that makes him one of football’s best. With a host of young tight ends developing behind him, Davis has embraced his role as the leader of his position group and on the team.

“A lot of the leading I do is by example,” Davis said. “When these guys come in they tend to follow me and ask me questions and look at me and things like that. I expect them to, because that’s how I was when I was a young guy coming in. I looked up to Eric Johnson and the guys that were in front of me because when you do that, you get an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to craft the position.”

No. 2 tight end Delanie Walker is currently recovering from an injury but is expected to be healthy for the season opener at Green Bay on Sept. 9. In the meantime, young bucks like Konrad Reuland and Demarcus Dobbs will be counted on to pick up the slack, starting with Saturday’s preseason matchup in Houston. The team also features undrafted rookie tight end Garrett Celek and newly-signed free agents Gijon Robinson and Joe Sawyer.

Reuland, who was on the 49ers scout team during the 2011 season, has already proved himself to Coach Jim Harbaugh through their time together in Stanford and San Francisco. Reuland also received a bulk of the playing time in last week’s preseason opener versus Minnesota, and will likely be a big factor again on Saturday.

“He can make the big catch,” Harbaugh said. “He can make the tough catch, the challenge catch. Konrad is one of those guys who will do anything in his power to help the team.”

At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Reuland is an athletic target for the 49ers quarterbacks. Harbaugh has also commended Reuland for bulking up and improving as a run-blocker since joining San Francisco as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season.

As a scout teamer last year, Reuland’s main responsibility was to mimic opposing team’s tight ends during practice throughout the week. Listening to All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, Reuland was a tough guy to cover.

“I told him at the end of the season that I appreciated everything that he’d done,” Willis said, “From his route-running to his blocking, he really helped me out last year to get better at covering tight ends from training camp to the end.”

Dobbs, meanwhile, has become a hot commodity among the 49ers coaching staff. A natural pass-rusher, the second-year player has also become a key contributor to the special teams unit, and more recently, an intriguing option at the tight end position.

Whereas the offensive players wear red jerseys in practice and the defensive players wear white, Dobbs has been issued a black jersey because he plays on both sides of the ball.

“Everybody wants a piece of Dobbs right now on both sides of the ball and on special teams,” Harbaugh said. “He is a popular guy with our coaching staff.”

Harbaugh said the 49ers have made sure not to overwhelm Dobbs, but that the versatile player has handled his wide range of responsibilities well. In fact, the coach suggested that playing both defensive end and tight end could benefit Dobbs from a mental standpoint.

“I think it can help a player’s development, especially a young player’s development, in a lot of ways,” Harbaugh said. “How much they can contribute to the football team, but also defensive end tight end. You learn a lot about defensive end because you know what the tight ends are doing. You know more about tight end because you know what the defensive ends are trying to get accomplished. There is a real carry-over there as it relates to special teams as well.”

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