SANTA CLARA -- The tight ends have been told not to expect to see No. 85 on the 49ers practice field for a while.
Vernon Davis’ indefinite absence in the 49ers’ voluntary offseason program while his agent seeks a new contract has certainly not gone unnoticed. Without Davis’ presence, the 49ers tight ends have looked toward a new leader.
New tight ends coach Eric Mangini has brought a different perspective in his first offseason of coaching a position on offense.
Vance McDonald admitted he worried about being coached by someone with no experience coaching his position. But he said he has already learned a lot from Mangini, a former defensive coordinator who had stints as head coach of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. Mangini joined Jim Harbaugh's staff last season as “senior offensive consultant.”
“There are so many little detailed things you can find,” McDonald said. “Not to say we weren’t focusing on it last year, but he just has so much experience on the defensive side of the ball, he’s absolute. It’s really nice having that.”
Mangini has schooled the tight ends on reading the defense and anticipating what to expect from a coverage standpoint based on diagnosing defensive looks.
Mangini replaces former NFL tight end Reggie Davis, who spent three seasons as tight ends coach with the 49ers. Davis moved to the offensive line to assist Mike Solari. Harbaugh explained his decision to insert Mangini in a foreign role after the move was made by simply referring to him as a "foot-ball coach."
“He has a very extensive resumé as a football coach,” Harbaugh said of Mangini at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He’s spent the whole season on the offensive side of the ball last year. You’re talking about a guy who’s coached 10, 11 guys at a position, an entire defense. He’s coached an entire team. So he’s more than qualified to coach three, four or five tight ends.”
Currently, Mangini is coaching five tight ends: McDonald, Derek Carrier, Garrett Celek, and undrafted rookies Asante Cleveland and Kevin Greene. The team is awaiting the arrival of Davis, who needs two touchdown receptions to move into No. 5 all alone on the career NFL list among tight ends.
One source said Mangini told his group of tight ends that this is an opportune time for them to make an impression because it might be awhile before Davis reports to the team.
McDonald’s role as the 49ers’ No. 2 tight end behind Davis appears secure, and he said he feels confident his game can take a big leap in his second NFL season. McDonald played 48.34 percent of the 49ers’ offensive snaps. He caught just eight passes for 119 yards, but he made consistent strides throughout his rookie season as a blocker.
“Last year it was so new, and there was so much information you had to retain for the next day, you just could only focus on that,” said McDonald, a second-round draft pick from Rice.
“Coming in this year, having been through the offense for a whole year, there are other things I can work on and other things I can focus on. And that’s something Coach Mangini is getting to.”
While McDonald might be feeling more at ease with the playbook and his responsibilities, something just doesn’t feel right without Davis around.
“It’s different,” McDonald said. “He’s goofy and goofing off, but when it comes to football he’s always full-tilt. I miss the dude. I’ll be honest. I miss the dude.”