Tight end Vance McDonald makes a catch against the Redskins during his rookie season. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Niners tight end Vernon Davis doesn’t have anything to prove to his coaches or teammates.
Heading into his ninth NFL season, Davis is coming off a 52-catch year that resulted in 850 yards and 13 touchdowns, tied for the most in his career. Since being taken in the first round of the 2006 draft, Davis has 397 receptions for 5,201 yards (a 13.1-yard average) and 53 scores.
So, Davis missing a few days of organized team activities (OTAs) this past week isn’t going to hold him back. Davis, 30, didn’t attend the voluntary OTAs, and was reported to be unhappy with his current contract that will pay him $9.1 million over the next two seasons, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s possible that Davis will be on the field, however, for the three-day full-roster minicamp to be held June 17-19.
“I might be there,” Davis told Branch. “I might not. It’s mandatory. I probably should be there. We’ll see.”
For the time being, Vance McDonald is the beneficiary of Davis’ absence.
The second-year tight end had a chance to run with the first team at OTAs this past week. And, in speaking to Bay Area reporters, McDonald says his second season already feels very different to him.
The 49ers, certainly, expect more from McDonald after the second-round pick out of Rice caught just eight passes in 2013 for 119 yards and no TDs.
He came into his first year with the reputation of a fine receiver, but spent much of his first season focusing on his blocking and becoming much better at that skill. At 6-foot-4 and 267 pounds, McDonald by the end of the season was getting praise for his work as a blocking tight end.
Now, however, McDonald says he’s ready to contribute even more.
“I’m more comfortable,” McDonald told the team’s website. “I know what to look for. I know what to look at. I know how to evaluate players on defense. There are so many things.”
McDonald says he feels “like a completely different player” now.
The question is, will McDonald’s improvement mean more receptions? Perhaps. But getting catches next season could be much more difficult. The 49ers figure to remain a run-first team, and Davis is still one of the NFL’s best pass-catching tight ends. Plus, the wide receiver corps is now deeper and more talented than at any time in the tenure of head coach Jim Harbaugh. San Francisco would rather not throw the ball 30 times a game. So, opportunities for McDonald downfield may be few.
But by becoming more familiar and comfortable in his role, McDonald may be able to take better advantage of those opportunities in 2014. Last season, McDonald had a few drops that proved critical, including what would have been a 40-yard reception late in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers.
McDonald momentarily had the pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but then allowed the ball to slip from his grasp when Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly pulled his arm.
Even more than two weeks after that drop, McDonald told a reporter the drop “haunts me.”
Now, with a full season behind him and plenty of playing time in OTAs, McDonald is optimistic he can be a better player in 2014.
His rookie season, he says, “was a blur.” Now, McDonald has a much clearer focus.