After 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made his first start in the NFL against the Bears, Vernon Davis had a sorts of praise for the young QB saying he was the “the man” and his “handcuffs” had finally been removed in the offense. Davis’ praise was warranted after the 49ers demolished the Bears 32-7, but it also had to do with him having his second-best game numbers wise this season, with six receptions for 83 yards and one touchdown.
In the four games since then Davis has four receptions for 29 yards and zero touchdowns. Those numbers are not an average per game, but his total stats combined from the four games, which included zero targets and receptions against the Saints.
Looking at the 49ers offense with Kaepernick as the starter, the offense doesn’t seem to miss Davis much with the team winning four of the last five games. The absence of Davis has been subdued with the emergence of the connection between Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree. Over the last five games, Crabtree has been targeted by Kaep 44 times, while Davis has been targeted only 17 times. Just in the past three games, Crabtree has 23 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns. After Sunday’s win over the Patriots, Kaep was asked why Crabtree has become his favorite target and he responded, “He’s open.”
The main reason why the Kaepernick-Davis chemistry has not materialized is because it takes time for a QB and receiver to establish a connection on the field. You can’t just throw in a receiver with a new quarterback and expect magic to happen. The chemistry develops overtime, just like it did between Davis and Alex Smith. But why is it that Kaepernick is connecting with Crabtree and not with Davis? According to Davis, you just need to look at the win against the Patriots in which Kaep overthrew him on a potential 34-yard touchdown pass. It has to do with his speed. Davis said,
Just working on some of the deep throws, like the ones you saw in the game, we work on it. Because in practice, he would overthrow me. I think he’s just kind of scared of my speed a little bit. He doesn’t really know it. We don’t have that timing, but it will come, just like any quarterback and wide receiver. It takes time.
There is some truth it to that. Crabtree is more of a catch and juke receiver. In other words, he doesn’t use his speed to break away from defenders, but uses his moves and jukes after catching a pass to gain extra yards. This season Crabtree has 394 yards after a catch, which ranks 10th overall in the NFL. Crabtree also runs different routes as a wide receiver than Davis at tight end. Also, the quick slants and short routes allow for Crabtree to be targeted more than Davis.
Here is a full transcript from Davis talking about building chemistry with Kaepernick:
Q: There were two passes that landed just beyond your reach against the Patriots?
VD: I get chills when I think about it, but we can talk about it. It’s cool. One thing I learned in the beginning when I first got here, everyone was talking about being on the same page as the quarterback, as Alex Smith. You have to develop that chemistry, that bond so you can be on the same page. That’s something me and Kap don’t have right now. We don’t have it. You have to expect it because he just stepped in. Me and Alex, we’ve been here.
It took some time for me and Alex to get like that. In the beginning, Alex would overthrow me, he would underthrow me. We had to build that chemistry that he could trust that I’m going in that spot that I needed to be. That’s something that me and Kap don’t have right now, but we’re working on it. We started working on it the moment he stepped in. So we have to build that. Every time I walk past Kaep, I’m always reminding him, ‘Kap, Kap, take your time on me. Take your time. Take your time. I’m not as fast as you think.’ It’s fun. It’s interesting, because it’s like starting all over again, especially for me.
Q: What other ways do you work on your chemistry with Kaepernick?
VD: Just working on some of the deep throws, like the ones you saw in the game, we work on it. Because in practice, he would overthrow me. I think he’s just kind of scared of my speed a little bit. He doesn’t really know it. We don’t have that timing, but it will come, just like any quarterback and wide receiver. It takes time. You have to build it and trust it. In due time it will all happen. We just have to get on the same page. That’s what makes football that much more interesting and fun.
Q: Do his passes really come fast?
VD: He’s strong. He’s a strong man. I heard rumors about him wanting to get bigger. I said, “Nooooo, nooooo, we don’t need you to get bigger.” But he’s strong, very strong arm, which is a good thing. And like I said, his future is very bright.
Q: How long would you say it took you to get a rapport with Alex?
VD: It took a while, but with Kap I’m sure if just continue to rehearse and work on it, we can make it happen. He’s a fast learner, just like Alex. But it takes time.
Q: Crabtree seems to be on the same page as Kaepernick. What do you attribute their early success to?
VD: Crab is a pretty good route runner. He’s getting open and Kap is finding him. He’s been running a lot of slants and quick dump-offs.
Q: So it’s the type of routes makes it easier to get on the same page?
VD: Yeah, the type of routes. It depends on what your routes are. The routes, speed, all those things come into consideration.