SANTA CLARA -- Mike Davis’ first NFL season left him less than fulfilled.
He broke his hand and did not appear in 10 games. When he did play, his 1.7-yard average led to some whispers the 49ers’ fourth-round draft pick was already a bust.
Davis lived the disappointment. He heard the criticism.
On Sunday, he has his first big chance this season to prove himself. Davis is expected to see significant playing time – and, perhaps, his first NFL start – with Carlos Hyde out of action with a shoulder injury. The 49ers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.
Davis dedicated himself after his rookie season to a body makeover. He swore off Flamin' Hot Cheetos, his favored snack. He dropped from 217 pounds to 205 – his lowest weight since high school. Davis’ body fat dropped from 18 percent to less than 12 percent.
“I feel more confident in myself,” Davis said. “I feel my power is the same. The only thing I feel is really different is the speed and the mindset. My mindset has changed since last year as well.”
Davis opened this season as the 49ers’ No. 3 running back. He rose up the depth chart last week, supplanting Shaun Draughn, as Hyde’s backup. Coach Chip Kelly said Davis has made improvements that led to his promotion.
“Just hitting the hole, timing, making the right cuts,” Kelly said. “You’re burying yourself into the back of the guard or are you working off of the guard’s block and getting yourself to the second level and not getting touched by a linebacker, finishing runs, showing good vision. That’s kind of what you’re looking for in a running back when you’re going through practice.”
Davis carried five times for 13 yards in the 49ers’ 45-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. In 12 career games, Davis has just 76 yards rushing on 45 attempts.
While Kelly rates Hyde and Draughn as more-accomplished receivers out of the backfield, he noted that Davis has improved that aspect of his game, as well as his pass protection.
“With coach Tom Rathman as your coach, he makes sure we know exactly what we’re doing,” Davis said. “He won’t put you out there if he doesn’t think you can handle it. I just made sure I go through the right steps and make sure I’m prepared into the game.
“I feel confident as ever. With Tom, we spend extra time and he makes sure our eyes are in the right place. That’s one thing we talk about more than anything.”