Led by legendary coach Bill Walsh, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s were the NFL’s home for dynamic offense. Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, and Roger Craig utilized the innovative West Coast Offense to revolutionize the art of scoring points. In 1994, new head coach George Seifert won Super Bowl XXIX with the lethal combination of Jerry Rice and Steve Young.
Now in 2009, the 49ers have perhaps found a new arsenal of aerial weapons, spearheaded by rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree and offensive captain and multi-talented tight end Vernon Davis.
Coming out of the University of Maryland, Vernon Davis entered the 2006 NFL Draft as an intriguing prospect to scouts, but rather unheralded to fans. He skyrocketed up draft boards after running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, an impressive time for wide receivers and running backs, but unheard of for a tight end.
San Francisco chose Davis sixth overall. In his first game, he caught a 31-yard touchdown pass for his first NFL reception (San Francisco lost narrowly to division rival Arizona, 34-27). He missed three weeks because of a hairline fracture in his left fibula, but he managed to return and then played for the remainder of the season. The Washington D.C. native had 20 catches for 365 yards as a rookie. Another injury struck in 2007, as Davis sprained his right knee. Luckily, he missed just two games and finished with 52 receptions for 509 yards along with four touchdowns.
Year three in San Francisco was nothing short of a catastrophe. The offense sputtered under the reigns of journeyman quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan. In October, Mike Nolan resigned under pressure from the front office, and linebackers coach Mike Singletary took the job as interim head coach.
Immediately, Singletary thrust another journeyman, Shaun Hill, into the starting quarterback role, and he began to implement a strict football regimen. Davis had trouble adjusting to Singletary. After catching a seven-yard pass against the Seahawks, Davis received a 15-yard penalty for slapping Seattle safety Brian Russell in the face mask. Coach Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker, was outraged. He openly confronted Davis on the sidelines and ultimately ordered him off the field for the remainder of the game.
With the 10th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Michael Crabtree. Unfortunately, the former Texas Tech superstar could not reach a contract agreement with the team. Crabtree was the second receiver picked but wanted as much money as Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh pick of the Draft. Crabtree believed he was the better player. It was not until the fourth week of the 2009 season that the two sides agreed upon a contract.
Meanwhile, Davis was named a team captain for 2009, signaling Singletary’s confidence in the fourth-year tight end. Davis has not disappointed. With nagging injuries to Frank Gore, Crabtree’s holdout, and quarterback inconsistencies, the former Maryland star has emerged as the 49ers’ best pass-catcher. He currently leads the NFL with six receiving touchdowns, including three second half touchdowns against Houston in Week 7.
In addition, Crabtree made his season debut against the Texans, catching five passes and leading first-round counterpart Heyward-Bey in every statistical category (and Heyward-Bey has played in each of the first seven games of 2009).
Now, with Davis, a healthy Frank Gore, and Crabtree, the 49ers have an offense that is capable of dethroning the Arizona Cardinals as the NFC West division champions.