San Francisco 49ers depend on Alex Smith-Vernon Davis connection

Near the end of a recent
49ers practice, quarterback Alex
Smith and tight end Vernon Davis stood near midfield and simply
talked things over. Smith used his right arm to demonstrate where
the tight end should change direction. Davis studied the angle of
Smith’s arm and nodded in approval.

The two have a good rapport — 37 percent of Smith’s career
touchdown passes have gone to Davis — but they need to work out a
few kinks in their game.

Their bread-and-butter play, the deep seam route, is no longer a
secret. Opponents kept Davis in check earlier this season by
greeting him with double coverage any time he came tearing down the
middle of the field. The Raiders will be on alert for Davis’
signature seam route today at Candlestick Park.

That is why Davis and Smith are making sure that they aren’t
just a one-route wonder. New offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is
helping, too, as the
49ers try to counter the defensive
adjustment with a counter move of their own.

“Teams have placed cornerbacks on (Davis), they’ve placed
safeties on him, and they’re trying to jam him at the line of
scrimmage,” Johnson said. “That’s where we as coaches and myself,
we have to find ways to make sure that teams do not take him
away.

“And I think you saw that in the second half of the game against
Philadelphia. He is an explosive guy.”

Smith and Davis hit on a big one — a 36-yarder — against
Philadelphia late Sunday. The game circumstances helped open things
up. The Eagles led 24-10 at the time, and they gave Davis and other
receivers plenty of cushion.

That is when Smith found Davis matched up against strong safety
Quintin Mikell and let it rip on the deep seam.

“He did it so much last year, he gets a lot of (defensive)
attention, rightfully so, especially with that play,” Smith said.
“It’s something we hit a lot last year, him down the middle of the
field, and I think teams are aware of it.

“Maybe there were some situations earlier where you could have
tried to force the issue. I don’t know if there were any glaringly
open, but you could have tried to force it. When it comes down to
the end of the game, it was time to make a play.”

A year ago, Davis scored 13 touchdowns. He was shut out of the
end zone for the
49ers’ first three games this season
but has a touchdown in each of his past two.

Oddly enough, his 13.0 yards per catch this season is his best
since he averaged 13.3 as a rookie (when he had only 20 catches).
He promised better days ahead, especially if Smith can snap out of
his early season funk.

While fans at Candlestick Park last week chanted “We want Carr!”
in an attempt to get backup David Carr on the field, Davis made
sure he told coach Mike Singletary, “I want Smith.”

“He’s a hard worker. He wants to excel. He wants to be good at
what he does,” Davis said. “He has a lot of pressure riding on him.
For a guy like that, you want to encourage him and push him to
exceed expectations.”

“I’m a big fan of his, and I can’t wait for the next game.”

Among active teammates, only Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Roddy White
have a higher percentage of touchdown connections. (43.2 of Ryan’s
career TD passes have gone to White, compared with 37.2 percent for
Smith and Davis).

But with their favorite route taken away, the
49ers will have to make a
transition. They will have to do it seamlessly.

“We have to make sure that we do not let teams take him away,”
Johnson said. “We need to make sure we’re still attacking them with
Vernon Davis.”

For more on the
49ers, see Daniel Brown’s Hot Read
blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers .null

The
49ers place much importance in
finding a way for Alex Smith, left, to get the ball in the hands of
tight end Vernon Davis, right.