The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers will open training camp at the end of the month. But before the pads come on and the competition for 53 coveted roster spots begin, 49ers.com will preview the storylines to track for each position group on the team. San Francisco's tight ends come into focus next in our "49ers Camp Preview" series.OVERVIEWVernon Davis remains as one of the best players at his position in the National Football League. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end blocks like a lineman and runs like a receiver. Davis ranks highly among all tight ends to ever put on a 49ers uniform. Davis is first among 49ers tight ends in touchdown receptions (40) and second in both receptions (345) and receiving yards (4,351). In his seventh season in San Francisco, Davis caught 41 passes for 548 yards with five touchdown receptions. Davis' production in the passing game amped up in the postseason with 13 receptions, 254 receiving yards and one touchdown. In Super Bowl XLVII, Davis recorded his fourth, 100-yard game in the postseason, catching six passes for 104 yards.
The established veteran continues to find ways to improve his talents. Davis worked on route-running in the offseason by joining wide receiver drills, but remains the team's No. 1 tight end and one of the vocal leaders on the team. Davis' leadership has been a positive for young tight ends on the roster, including second-year tight end Garrett Celek, a former undrafted rookie who surprised many by making the team's 53-man roster at the conclusion of training camp in 2012.
The 49ers lost a versatile contributor in Delanie Walker at the start of free agency this offseason, but picked up a quality prospect in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Garrett Celek, San Francisco's section with the No. 55 overall pick, has impressed many in his short time with the 49ers. Without the use of pads in Organized Team Activities and minicamps, McDonald hasn't been able to showcase his physicality. However, in his first offseason with the 49ers, the 6-foot-4, 267-pound showed many of the talents that made him a coveted player. McDonald got open down the field and more importantly, displayed the ability to make tough catches away from his body.
San Francisco will rely on McDonald to be a key contributor in his first season, but they'll also ask a lot from Celek, an intriguing prospect who carved out a greater role towards the end of his rookie campaign. With offensive coordinator Greg Roman unafraid to utilize multi-tight end formations, the 49ers will need options at the position.
RETURNERS: Vernon Davis (eighth season), Garrett Celek (second season) and Demarcus Dobbs (third season). NEWCOMERS: Vance McDonald, (second-round pick, Rice) and MarQueis Gray (undrafted, Minnesota).
Davis remains the clear-cut leader of the group and has been a constant mentor for the young tight ends on the roster. Celek, McDonald and undrafted rookie MarQueis Gray, a former college tight end, have all been outspoken in praising Davis' leadership. With only four true tight ends on the roster, all four players will see plenty of action when training camp begins. Dobbs, an emerging defensive tackle, saw limited action at tight end in the 2012 offseason program, but primarily worked with the defensive line in 2013. Dobbs' knowledge of the offense allows him to be an option at tight end, but he will likely continue his defensive line duties in training camp.
Davis' 40 touchdown receptions are the most by a tight end in franchise history.
"Vance is doing a nice job. He's progressing nicely. We threw everything at him at two different positions in the offense and he's progressing really well. I like his demeanor and I like the progression he's on."
-Offensive coordinator Greg Roman gave this response when asked about the progress of San Francisco's second-round pick.