Since taking over as head coach of the 49ers, Jim Harbaugh has shown he likes to challenge his own players.
He speaks often about how competition in camp sharpens talent and brings out the best. This offseason, when asked about the number of running backs who will be fighting for playing time during this training camp and the coming season – Frank Gore, Brandon Jacbos, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon – Harbaugh reiterated his philosophy:
“Right now, you try to have the goal of getting your best 90 football players in training camp. … Then we’ll get to training camp and we’ll find out who our best players are and what the best rotational plan is,” he told columnist Tim Kawakami in April.
So it’s really no surprise that general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh have added free-agent offensive lineman Leonard Davis as one extra ingredient to their training camp recipe.
With a vacant starting spot at right guard, Davis will now compete with converted offensive tackle Alex Boone, considered the front-runner for the job after minicamp.
Davis, 33, was signed to a one-year deal Thursday after the former three-time Pro Bowl lineman hadn’t gotten any offers since being on the Detroit Lions roster in 2011.
Davis was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, then played his finest seasons for the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-10.
“If I didn’t want to compete, shoot, I wouldn’t want to be here,” Davis told reporters Thursday. “I’d just hang it up and retire. But I’m a competitive person.”
Davis was known in his prime to be a fine run blocker, so he likes the 49ers’ offensive style. In 2011, while the rest of the NFL was pass-happy, San Francisco was just one of four teams to have more rushing attempts than passing attempts.
“They like to run the ball a lot and that fits my style,” says Davis.
Before the signing of Davis, Boone had been considered a lock for the job. Other candidates included rookie Joe Looney, a fourth-round pick, who has been recovering from a foot injury.
With the rest of the 49ers’ offensive line solid – tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, left guard Mike Iupati and center Jonathan Goodwin – right guard has been the only question mark.
Though Boone got rave reviews for his progress in making the switch from backup tackle to guard this spring, this now gives the 49ers another interesting competition to watch this summer.
And, if both players are healthy and play well, having both Davis and Boone on the roster will give San Francisco an even deeper group heading into 2012.
Davis knows, too, that the 49ers not only give him an opportunity to do what he does best – open holes for running backs – but perhaps win a championship.
“If you don’t want to win the Super Bowl – if you don’t have those expectations, you really shouldn’t be playing,” he told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.