SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — A big part of the San Francisco 49ers' offense the past few seasons will be playing against them Sunday for the Tennessee Titans.
But an emerging San Francisco attack appears to be absorbing the loss of Delanie Walker well at the tight end position, and it's not just the exploits of starter Vernon Davis.
Rookie Vance McDonald has played well as the new No. 2 to Davis and veteran Garrett Celek also has contributed in an offense that uses two tight-end formations often, just like it did when the versatile Walker was lining up at multiple positions the past two years for offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Having extra tight ends on the field has helped get San Francisco's run game going, and last week's career-best performance by Davis helped spark a lagging passing attack that ranks just 30th in the NFL.
Davis had eight catches for a career-high 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns in San Francisco's 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, but he said those numbers aren't important.
It's the body of work he and the team's other tight ends are doing to help the 49ers win and get the offense out of an early season funk that are important. San Francisco is looking for more of that Sunday when the 49ers (4-2) travel to Tennessee to play the Titans (3-3), whose new starting tight end served as Davis' backup the past seven seasons in San Francisco.
"I'm past the point that I only get excited about catching passes and getting yards and scoring touchdowns," Davis said Friday. "That's not what I'm here for. I'm here to help this team in any phases that I can, and that's what all our tight ends are doing. Delanie did a lot of great things for us on the field, made a lot of plays. But I don't feel like it's really a loss, because when the new guys come in, they fill that void."
McDonald, San Francisco's second-round draft pick this year, is averaging 13.2 yards per catch as a receiving complement to Davis at the position. But it's his improved blocking that really has made an impression in recent weeks, and that's had an impact on a rushing attack that has climbed to fourth in this week's NFL rankings.
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