Davis becoming more visible leader

Vernon Davis has stepped it up for the San Francisco 49ers this
season in ways that go beyond the star tight end’s typical
contributions to the team’s passing game.

The charismatic sixth-year veteran has emerged as one of the
49ers’ more visible leaders and has been outspoken in support of
teammates.

He also can be counted on when the team’s inconsistent offense
needs him most.

Davis took charge to spark the 49ers’ first touchdown drive late
in the third quarter of Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh,
setting up his own 1-yard scoring reception with two big plays that
got San Francisco rolling toward a 20-3 victory.

Davis’ six receptions for 72 yards against the Steelers were his
second-best totals in each category this season, underscoring how
Davis has been used this year within the framework of San
Francisco’s offense.

With two games remaining, Davis is well off the receiving totals
that made him the NFC’s starting tight end in the Pro Bowl two
seasons ago. But Davis’ contributions to San Francisco’s first NFC
West championship and playoff berth in nine years go well beyond
numbers.

”Vernon is a leader on this team,” coach Jim Harbaugh said
Thursday. ”He’s done everything that the team has asked him to do
and done it very well, done it at a very high level. I think he’s
having an outstanding season. One of the top tight ends in the game
of football, and I think he’s having that kind of year.”

After becoming the first tight end in franchise history to lead
the 49ers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches in
consecutive seasons the past two years, Davis ranks second on the
team this year to wide receiver Michael Crabtree with 55 receptions
for 620 yards.

Davis said he’s enjoying every minute of it. Like a lot of
players on the San Francisco roster, this is his first winning
season.

”We’re winning, and I’m excited about it as anybody,” Davis
said. ”I’ll always do whatever I can to dominate my opponent, but
that’s just who I am. That’s just my nature to do that. But yeah, I
was very excited that I was able to be involved in the passing game
(Monday) and help my team win.”

With the 49ers clinging to a three-point lead late in the third
quarter, Davis got behind the Steelers defense for a 31-yard
reception that pushed San Francisco into Pittsburgh territory. He
finished the drive with a 21-yard reception followed by his 1-yard
scoring catch – Davis’ team-leading sixth touchdown reception this
season.

But Davis, known for his confidence and boasting earlier in his
career, has remained humble throughout the 49ers’ turnaround
season.

Instead of reveling in one of his best games of the year, Davis
went to Twitter early Tuesday to support a struggling teammate,
calling veteran wide receiver Braylon Edwards ”a true
professional. Very thankful to have him on my team.”

Edwards, expected to be San Francisco’s No. 1 receiver entering
the season, is having a frustrating first year with the 49ers.
Edwards has battled knee and shoulder problems this season and has
been inactive for two of San Francisco’s past three games. He has
one reception for five yards in the past five games.

Davis also has remained consistent in his support of quarterback
Alex Smith this season when others have wavered.

Davis, who leads all NFL tight ends with 26 touchdown receptions
since 2009, has been Smith’s top target since Smith entered the NFL
as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005.

Davis followed Harbaugh’s lead this week in asserting that Smith
is the team’s long-term answer at quarterback.

”I firmly believe that Alex Smith can do nothing but just keep
getting better,” Davis said. ”He wants to be successful and try
to find ways to help this team get better down the road. I’m all
for it. I’m a big supporter.”