Vernon Davis is one of the NFL’s best tight ends.
He has speed like a wide receiver, has good size at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds and has been highly productive over a nine-year career with the 49ers. He’s also been praised for his blocking skills for the run-first Niners the past four seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
In 2013, Davis tied a career high with 13 touchdown catches and also had 52 receptions overall for 850 yards, tying a career high for yards per catch (16.3).
But in 2014, Davis almost vanished as a receiver. His catches fell by 50 percent, to 26, the lowest total since his rookie season. He also averaged just 9.4 yards per catch, his lowest mark ever.
Now, Tony Sparano has been hired to help make Davis, 31, part of the 49ers’ passing attack again.
Sparano, the former interim head coach of the Raiders last season, agreed this week to become part of the new staff of head coach Jim Tomsula. For most of his career, Sparano has worked with offensive lines. But he’s also been a tight ends coach with Washington, Jacksonville and Dallas. At Dallas, in fact, he was the first coach of Cowboys standout Jason Witten in 2003 and 2004, when Witten had 35 and 87 receptions his first two seasons en route to becoming one of the NFL’s best tight ends.
Witten this past season said Sparano was a great teacher.
"Coach Sparano was a great influence on my career," Witten told ESPN. "I had him for two years as a tight ends coach coming out of college and really a lot of what I learned was from him early on. Just to have him invested in me when nobody thought I had a chance, that was important for me to see."
Witten added that Sparano taught him a lot about toughness and how to approach the game.
Sparano will have not only Davis to work with in San Francisco, but Vance McDonald, a second-round pick in 2013 who has caught just 10 passes in two seasons. Derek Carrier and Garrett Celek are the other experienced tight ends on the roster.
While it’s still not known who the offensive coordinator will be in 2015 – or what type of changes will be made from the offensive scheme run the past four years under Harbaugh – the 49ers will need to get Davis back into the rhythm of the passing game and get him back on the same page with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In 2013, Kaepernick and Davis were a dynamic combination.
Now Sparano will get a chance to help them regain that chemistry in 2015.