49ers training camp preview: Tight ends

49ers training camp preview: Tight ends
July 21, 2014, 8:00 am
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The 49ers’ offense takes on an entirely different look without Davis. He is a huge part of the team’s passing game, and they don’t have another tight end like him on the roster.
Matt Maiocco

Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad will report on July 23, with the first practice day scheduled for July 24. This morning, Matt focuses on the tight ends.

Who they have: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier, Garrett Celek, Asante Cleveland, Kevin Greene.

Who they lost: None.

Looking back: Davis was the 49ers’ second-leading receiver, behind Anquan Boldin, with 52 catches for 850 yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns. He became the first tight end in NFL history to record two seasons of 12 or more touchdowns. He continued to be the 49ers’ most-dangerous deep threat. In addition, his run-blocking was very solid.

McDonald played 48.3 percent of the 49ers’ snaps as the team’s No. 2 tight end. Predictably, he did not have a huge role in the team’s passing game with just eight catches for 119 yards. His blocking improved from the beginning of the year.

Celek and Carrier saw limited action as the No. 3 tight end. Most of the times the 49ers wanted an extra blocker, they went with a spare offensive lineman in that role.

Overall outlook: It’s been a bizarre offseason for Davis, who has sent a variety of mixed messages with his statements and his actions. After originally saying his absences from the 49ers’ offseason program had nothing to do with his contract, he finally came clean. He forfeited a $200,000 workout bonus and opened himself up to a fine of nearly $70,000 with his failure to attend the mandatory minicamp.

Davis’ $7.35 million average on his current contract does not make him underpaid, but his base salaries actually decrease over the final two years of his deal. One thing is certain: The 49ers’ offense takes on an entirely different look without Davis. He is a huge part of the team’s passing game, and they don’t have another tight end like him on the roster.

McDonald is expected to make a small leap in production in his second season, but if Davis stays away the 49ers will need him to step up to win matchups against linebackers and safeties. It'll be position coach Eric Mangini's job to get more out of McDonald.

Camp competition: The most-intriguing battle will be for the No. 3 tight end position, as Carrier opened a lot of eyes with his speed, hands and athleticism. It’ll be no small feat for Celek to win a roster spot for the third consecutive season. Rookies Cleveland and Greene showed some skills in the offseason program, too.