With Smith behind center, 49ers go to the air

Vernon Davis spoke up. Alex Smith, too. Even rookie Michael Crabtree offered his input on San Francisco’s offense.

The 49ers believe they can score more points with their passing game and, last week, a handful of players made their opinions known to coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. On Sunday, they backed up those words. San Francisco (5-6) passed all day in beating Jacksonville 20-3, and Smith connected on touchdown strikes to Davis and Frank Gore.

“I think the spread offense is working for this offense right now,” said tight end Delanie Walker, one of five players with at least four catches against the Jaguars.

Davis is a captain now and has earned Singletary’s confidence during a career year. Two weeks ago at Green Bay, Davis encouraged his coach to open up the offense.

Walker said the 49ers realized during that 30-24 loss to the Packers that they could have success in the spread and probably were better suited for such a style with all the playmakers they have in a deep, talented receiving corps.

“That’s really when the light went off and the guys were like, ‘Maybe we should say something to coach and see if we can make a change.’ They tried it last week and I think everybody was happy with the solution,” Walker said. “Singletary’s a good guy, and this is a family. A couple of guys went up there and told him they wanted to talk to him about a couple of things.”

For Singletary, it was a big step to see from his players – a sign of camaraderie and maturity for a young team.

“There’s a trust factor that has to be in place for a player to come forward and say: ‘You know what, coach, I think this would be a good idea. I think if we tried this, that would be great. I think we would win,”‘ Singletary said Monday. “That to me is very, very important. We’ve been talking about leadership. We’ve talked about ownership. One really can’t come without the other.”

Yet Smith is downplaying his part in all of this, saying he meets with Raye every day and talking to him last week about the passing attack was really no different. But Smith did acknowledge he feels more comfortable expressing his ideas and thoughts now that he’s well into his comeback season. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, Smith took over as the starter in place of Shaun Hill after halftime against Houston on Oct. 25.

Singletary said he encouraged Smith to approach Raye to discuss the matter.

“The door’s always been open with Jimmy. This isn’t like something that was new this week. It’s always been there,” Smith said. “I know a lot’s been made of this. With experience, the more you play in an offense, the better you feel in that system. Quarterbacks, we meet with Jimmy all day, every day. Our input, we’re always throwing it out there, whether or not he uses it.”

Smith passed a career-high 29 times in the first half Sunday, the majority out of the shotgun formation, and finished the day 27 of 41 for 232 yards. He wasn’t sacked for the first time this season and didn’t throw an interception. Smith had been sacked at least twice in each of his previous starts.

Davis had a 30-yard reception on fourth-and-1 among his six catches, shining yet again in Raye’s tight-end friendly system. Davis matched a franchise record for a tight end with his ninth TD of the season, a 3-yard catch while wide open in the left side of the end zone in the second quarter.

Davis appreciates Singletary’s willingness to listen to the players’ points of view and put Smith in the best position to effectively lead the offense.

“I said something to coach. I said, ‘We should do it, spread it out a little bit,”‘ Davis said. “But it’s not about what I want. If the coaches feel we need to do that, then we’re going to do it.”

The no-nonsense Singletary is certainly showing he’s adaptable. He wants to win and keep his Niners in the playoff chase, whatever it takes.

So much for the power-run offense he planned for his first full season in charge. Gore had 33 of San Francisco’s 52 yards rushing against Jacksonville, but caught a team-leading seven passes. Josh Morgan joined Davis with six catches and Crabtree and Walker had four each.

“Being stubborn, it can be a good thing. But I think most of the time it’s a foolish thing,” Singletary said. “I think there are a lot of philosophies out there. My overall philosophy is to win.”

On Monday, Davis and Morgan ran and worked out together on the field. The day after a game is typically a light day made up of meetings and film sessions. Davis is often the last one off the field, something that’s rubbing off on others. Singletary loves it and hopes Crabtree will join in the extra work.

With all the moveable parts this season on offense – a changing offensive line, Crabtree’s late arrival, a quarterback switch, a revolving receiving corps – Singletary credits Raye for handling everything so well from week to week.

“I tell Jimmy, ‘I’m proud you haven’t run over me in the parking lot,”‘ Singletary said.