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.”