RICHMOND | Vernon Davis played 14 snaps in the Washington Redskins’ preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons and badly wished he played more.
Throughout training camp, the 32-year-old tight end has said he feels great physically as he nears the start of his 11th season. Davis said he felt even better on the field against the Falcons, which was why he wanted to play beyond the second quarter. More importantly, he wanted to redeem himself after dropping a perfectly thrown pass from backup quarterback Colt McCoy in the back right corner of the end zone.
“Playing in a dome you sometimes lose the ball,” Davis said last Saturday when the Redskins returned for the conclusion of training camp. “It can be tough. I lost that ball. We’re going to make mistakes, drop balls.
“The key is to minimize the mistakes, have more good than bad. I’m getting better. That’s just learning for me. Next time I need to be more aware the ball can get lost like that. And just figure something I can do better.”
Davis ran a crisp corner route and gained all the separation he needed between himself and cornerback Akeem King. “Oh, they gonna see a lot of that this year,” Davis said with a smile. “I’m excited.”
The Washington native, who signed a one-year contract in March, still feels like he has plenty to offer the Redskins as he enters the twilight of his career. He’s no longer the pass-catching threat he was during his peak with the San Francisco 49ers, when he hauled in 423 catches for 5,446 yards and 55 touchdowns in nine seasons. He didn’t catch a touchdown last season for the first time in his career when he split the year between the 49ers and Denver Broncos.
He struggled to latch onto the Broncos’ system and caught just 20 passes for 201 yards in nine games with the Super Bowl champions. Yet plays such as the one against the Falcons showed that Davis will have to at least be accounted for defensively when he takes the field alongside tight end Jordan Reed.
Davis’ true value, though, hinges on how well he can block in the running game. The Redskins have an affinity for multiple-tight end sets and the blocking was inconsistent in 2015 after season-ending injuries to Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen.
In the first preseason game, Davis impressed the coaching staff with a block in the first quarter. Rookie running back Keith Marshall lost a yard on the play, but Davis engaged his block with Brooks Reed and drove his legs until he dropped the Falcons’ outside linebacker flat on his back. On the Redskins’ second play of the game, a 3-yard loss by Matt Jones, left tackle Ty Nsekhe and Davis blocked Reed several yards downfield while Davis finished the block to the ground.
“You know, I haven’t,” Davis said when asked if he’s put an extra emphasis on improving his run blocking. “It’s like since I’ve gotten here, I’ve just gotten better at the blocking game. I don’t know what it is. That hasn’t always been a focal point to me. My focus has always been the passing game of course. But I try to go out there, be the best at everything.”
Last season, the Redskins acquired tight end Derek Carrier from the San Francisco 49ers after the injuries to Paul and Paulsen. Carrier, who is on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, was primarily a pass catcher when he joined the Redskins. Working closely with tight ends coach Wes Phillips and offensive line coach Bill Callahan, Carrier improved his run blocking as the season progressed. The expectation is that Davis will do the same and his two blocks last Thursday were a strong start.
The Redskins didn’t sign Davis until nearly three weeks after his visit with the team in March. He was brought in as a depth signing as Paul finished recovering from a broken left ankle he sustained in the 2015 preseason.
“We weren’t sure how Niles was going to come back from his injury,” coach Jay Gruden said. “We had to protect ourselves and Vernon was staring us right in our face and we grabbed him. He’s too good of a talent to pass up.”
How the depth at the tight end position plays out will be interesting as the preseason continues. Reed sat out against the Falcons with a sprained right thumb and Davis, not Paul, filled his absence. When both Davis and Paul were on the field, Paul lined up at fullback or as the second tight end. Paulsen and second year tight end Marcel Jensen played the majority of the game once the starters were pulled.
“They’re all very versatile guys,” Gruden said of the position group. “We’ve got to figure out how to use them. We have three-tight end sets we can use in the game, two-tight end sets, one tight end, so they’ll be used somehow.”
• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com.
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