49ers must get Davis involved with Manningham out

49ers must get Davis involved with Manningham out
December 25, 2012, 7:45 am
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With Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams out for the season, the 49ers need to get Vernon Davis involved alongside Michael Crabtree.

Just like a year ago, the 49ers will enter the playoffs short-handed at wide receiver.

The 49ers have played two games without Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams. And they will be without their services for the remainder of the season due to significant knee injuries.

At the time Williams was lost for the season, he was third among the 49ers wideouts in playing time. Despite missing three full games due to injuries, Manningham ranks as the 49ers' second-leading receiver with 42 catches for 449 yards.

Manningham must undergo season-ending knee surgery after sustaining torn ligaments in the 49ers' 42-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. Williams' season came to an end on Nov. 25 when his ACL was torn against the New Orleans Saints.

Both players face long rehabilitation roads and are not likely to be available when training camp opens next summer.

In order for the 49ers' offense to compensate for the loss of Manningham, they must start to get production from tight end Vernon Davis, who has virtually disappeared over the past nine games. During that stretch, Davis has averaged just 22.6 yards receiving per game.

Randy Moss, 35, a 14-year veteran, is now the 49ers' No. 2 wide receiver. In 2010, when he played for three teams, Moss caught 28 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he has just 26 receptions for 406 yards and three touchdowns.

Michael Crabtree, who is just 67 yards shy of becoming the 49ers' first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003, leads the 49ers with 77 receptions and seven touchdowns.

Moss and second tight end Delanie Walker are the two players who saw the biggest increases in playing time in the two games the 49ers played without Williams and Manningham.

Moss played 60.8 percent of the snaps in the games against Miami and New England when Manningham and Williams were not available. In the other 13 games, Moss played just 36.2 percent.

Walker's play time increased to 70.4 percent from 54.4 percent in the two games that neither Manningham nor Williams was available.

Rookie A.J. Jenkins is expected to suit up for games now -- just as he did in the two games when the 49ers were down to four healthy wide receivers on their 53-man roster. But Jenkins played just eight snaps apiece in those games and never saw a pass thrown his way.

Ted Ginn, the 49ers' punt-return specialist, has played just 57 snaps of offense the entire season. He has just two catches for 1 yard on the season. So there is no reason to expect much -- if any -- production from the 49ers' third receiver.

Wide receivers Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall are currently on the 49ers' practice squad.

The 49ers were determined to increase their depth at wide receiver and running back to ensure they would not run out of healthy players again. In addition to the signings of Manningham and Moss, the 49ers drafted Jenkins in the first round, but he has yet to prove he is ready to be a factor.

The 49ers also signed promising undrafted rookies, Chris Owusu and Nathan Palmer, who did not survive the final cuts and are on the 53-man rosters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.

At running back, the 49ers signed veteran Brandon Jacobs, who became disgruntled with his lack of playing time and was suspended. Second-round draft pick LaMichael James spent the first 13 games inactive before being pressed into service when backup Kendall Hunter sustained a season-ending Achilles injury.

The 49ers began last season with Crabtree, Joshua Morgan and Braylon Edwards as their top three receivers. Morgan sustained a season-ending injury and Edwards was injured, then released late in the season. Ginn was unavailable for the NFC Championship game, forcing the 49ers to go with Crabtree, Williams and Brett Swain as their top three receivers.

Now, more than ever, the 49ers need to get production from Davis, who is having his worst season since 2008, when then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz de-emphasized the tight end position.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have not found ways to consistently get the ball to Davis. That's mostly been forgiven because the 49ers (10-4-1) are in line to win the NFC West for a second consecutive season with a victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals. They can still be the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs with a win Sunday, coupled with a Green Bay loss at Minnesota.

Now, it's essential that Davis returns as a key component in the passing game because there are few other reliable options.

Davis should be available for the 49ers' regular-season finale against the Cardinals after sustaining a mild concussion Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks.