Vernon Davis' turnaround pattern
Once deemed a bust-in-the-making, 49ers TE blooms under Singletary's watch
Money-earnin' Mount Vernon
"Vernon went from being a player who guys didn't know how to deal with -- and didn't really want to be around -- to being a player they respect and admire," Singletary said. "I've never seen a turnaround happen as fast as this one."Davis deserves all the credit for learning how to harness the deep well of emotion that streams though him. It's startling to see a player who can be so soft-spoken one moment and turn so bombastic the next. Davis can go from zero to crazed in record time. His teammates learned that immediately after he scored on a 31-yard touchdown reception in his first NFL game. After reaching the sideline following the play, Davis threw off his helmet and yelled repeatedly that nobody on the Arizona Cardinals could cover him that day. Said 49ers quarterback Alex Smith: "We all looked at him like he was crazy because he hadn't really said anything before that point."
Dealing with abandonment, fear
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Learning to channel anger
He quickly became known for injuries (he missed a total of eight games during his first two seasons, including six in his rookie season), stupid penalties and an inexplicable habit of fighting with teammates in practice. During Davis' second year, he scuffled with outside linebacker Parys Haralson because Davis had refused to stop blocking him after the whistle had blown during a drill."He was a hothead," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. "He was very passionate but he would have those outbursts when he'd just lose control."
I just had a lot of emotion stored up inside me that I had to get out. I felt like I had to kill whoever was in front of me when I stepped onto a football field because of that. I really had to learn how to practice.” -- 49ers TE Vernon Davis on learning how to mature
Said Davis: "I just had a lot of emotion stored up inside me that I had to get out. I felt like I had to kill whoever was in front of me when I stepped onto a football field because of that. I really had to learn how to practice."Despite those issues, the 49ers saw plenty of redeeming value in Davis. First off, he wasn't afraid to work hard. He studied film when he was hurt, listened attentively in meetings and respected his coaches. Even when Singletary tossed him out of that game -- a contest that also happened to be Singletary's debut as interim head coach after the team had fired Mike Nolan -- Davis didn't talk back. He'd made a boneheaded error by slapping the helmet of Seahawks safety Brian Russell after a play, and he didn't want to make matters worse by barking at his coach. What Davis couldn't have known at the time was how much that day would change the course of his career. "It was a wake-up call for him," Singletary said. "But I also told Vernon I would've done that to anybody. When we're on the field, I want everybody focused on what we're trying to do. If you're not, then you're taking away from us." From that point on, Davis wasn't just somebody Singletary made an example of at an opportune moment. Davis basically became the coach's personal project. In fact, shortly after Singletary became coach, he made a point of criticizing Davis for catching passes with his body (and dropping too many as a result). The next day Davis practiced, he was working on his hands on that Jugs machine. Before long, he was quoting Singletary's advice to other teammates and, as Vontae Davis said, "telling me that coach Singletary isn't like any coach [Vernon's] ever had."
From problem child to captain
"Singletary saw Vernon like a son," 49ers tight end Delanie Walker said. "If Vernon dropped a pass in practice, Singletary would yell it out. If Vernon made a mistake, Singletary would yell it out. And when practice ended or we were in meetings, Singletary would make it clear that Vernon was f---ing up. He knew that Vernon could be better than what he was."
"You could see that he really trusted his hands. You could tell he felt like a difference-maker, and I don't know if that was always the case."Davis actually might disagree with that. "I knew I was ready to have the kind of year I had [in 2009]," he said. "I was ready for that when I first came here. It's just that there's a lot of things you have to learn in this league." Added Singletary: "All the credit goes to Vernon. You can be the greatest motivator in the world, but it won't matter if you're dealing with somebody who doesn't want to be motivated. One thing I know about Vernon is that he wants to be special." These days, Davis is prepared to elevate his game even more. Raye would like to split him out wide at times to increase the pressure on defenses. Davis also wants to help his younger teammates grow up fast enough to make the 49ers a postseason participant after a humbling, season-opening loss. The 49ers will try to rebound on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" at home Sept. 20 against the New Orleans Saints. Most importantly, Davis wants to continue proving what has become obvious to those around him: that he truly is at peace. "The anger is probably still in the back of my mind, but it doesn't control me any longer," he said. "I've learned how to use it in the right ways." Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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