SANTA CLARA – Without Michael Crabtree, the focal point of the San Francisco 49ers' passing attack last season, the 49ers need all of their receivers to step up – Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, A.J. Jenkins and anyone else who can run and catch and breathe.
At an afternoon OTA session this week, Boldin stepped up. He was unstoppable. He caught 10 passes in 45-minutes worth of team drills – offense vs. defense. Colin Kaepernick and Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien couldn't resist passing to him. It didn't matter if Boldin was open or not. Often he was not. Still, each quarterback would drop back, find Boldin and throw to him, and he'd snatch the ball out of the air before the defender knew what happened.
Vernon Davis, on the other hand, caught one pass in team drills – a five-yarder from the fourth-string quarterback, B.J. Daniels. The other three quarterbacks never threw it to Davis, who may be the best tight end in the NFL. He was a complete afterthought in the offense, as he's been for many stretches the past two seasons under Jim Harbaugh. That must change this year.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has explained his inability to consistently get Davis the ball. Davis is so good that defenses try to take him away. So, Roman uses Davis as a decoy and takes what the defense gives him.
If Bill Walsh or Al Davis heard Roman say that, they'd spin in their graves. Walsh learned offensive strategy from Davis, and Davis learned it from Sid Gillman. It's a direct line. All three believed in taking what they wanted from the defense and forcing the defense to react to them. They would have scoffed at the idea of taking what the defense gives you.
You'd like to think the 49ers realize Davis must be more than a decoy this season. You'd like to think Kaepernick has been throwing dozens of passes to Davis in the practices closed to the media.
Recently, Davis described his relationship with Kaepernick to the San Jose Mercury News: “We joke away from the field,” Davis said. “That's very important, especially when it comes to having a relationship with your quarterback. You want to be able to joke with this guy. It's about what you do away from here.”