Garrett Celek knew he had to work on his hands when he joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
By Week 16, however, the Michigan State tight end made a 35-yard catch on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.
Celek put in a lot of work over the course of the year to get to that point. His hard work in the training camp earned him a roster spot as San Francisco's third tight end.
Celek's stats as a rookie season don't jump off the page (4 receptions, 51 yards), but his improvement didn't go unnoticed by coaches and teammates. Vernon Davis remembers Celek's early struggles and the work he put in to improve his performance.
Celek spent extra time on the JUGS machine after practice and progressed throughout the year.
"He's willing to work," Davis told 49ers.com. "He's willing to go beyond the expectations the coaches set for him. That's what is going to make him a great player.
"He's willing to put in the time to study and work out."
Celek became Davis' shadow in 2012. The undrafted rookie tried to learn as much as possible from the eight-year veteran. Davis was willing to show the way, knowing how important it is for rookies to have a mentor.
"I think as a rookie coming in, you pick a guy playing your position and you follow that guy because you know if this guy's starting, then you have to do everything he's doing in order to get better," Davis said. "That's what he did. He watched guys like Delanie (Walker) and myself and he tried to follow us and mimic some of the things we were doing to get better."
Playing alongside a player of Davis' caliber provided another positive experience for Celek, the younger brother of Philadelphia Eages tight end, Bren Celek.
"He's one of the best and for me to be able to watch him day after day, it only makes me better," Celek said of the 49ers tight end, who caught 5354 passes for 802 yards and 6 tds in 2012.
While Celek made strides as a pass-catcher, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound tight end excelled as a run blocker. He's received high praise from offensive coordinator Greg Roman and members of San Francisco's offensive line.
"He's a great player," right guard Alex Boone said. "He's strong. He's tough. He's got great hands and he can run block. I think that's what makes a tight end really good. When he's out there, he can make good catches for you and he can always run block and help the run game. I think he does a good job with that."
Entering his second season in the NFL, Celek shows no signs of slowing down. With the loss of Delanie Walker in free agency, Celek has more motivation to make a push for the 49ers No. 2 tight end position. To do that, he'll have to fend off free agent addition Cameron Morrah and second-round draft pick Garrett Celek.
Celek studied behind Walker for one season and feels like he can fill that void.
"Delanie is the type of player that I'm trying to become," Celek said. "I give him a lot of props. He was able to do everything for this team and I hope to do the same."
Davis won't be betting against his protégé.
"All he needs to do is continue to do everything he did last year - observe, pay attention, study and work hard," Davis said. "The sky's the limit."