Mike Singletary's words never far from Vernon Davis' mind


Mike Singletary's words never far from Vernon Davis' mind

Tight end Vernon Davis does a pretty good Mike Singletary impersonation.

He should be good at it. After all, he said those Singletary words – “I want winners!” -- directed at Davis during a midseason game in 2008 have stuck with him through his entire NFL career.

In Singletary’s first game as interim coach after taking over for fired Mike Nolan, Davis was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he retaliated to some trash talk with a shove to the facemask of Seattle defensive back Brian Russell.

When Singletary was not satisfied with Davis’ reaction to a chewing out, Singletary ordered the third-year player off the sideline and into the locker room at the end of the third quarter. After the game, Singletary’s press conference was dominated by his blistering words aimed at Davis.

Those words stick with Davis even today – as a 12th-year NFL player who ranks No. 10 all-time in receiving yards among tight ends.

“It never leaves. It’s always there. It’s always around,” Davis said. “It permeates throughout the years. It’s there. I first heard it after that game. I went home and sat on the couch and turned the TV on. And there he was, coach Singletary. . .”

Davis, a special guest on The 49ers Insider Podcast, then gave a brief impersonation of Singletary’s rant.

“I know it like the back of my hand,” Davis laughed. “I was sitting there. How could he do that? That’s horrible. I can’t believe he would do that. I was so frustrated. I was livid. I just couldn’t take it. He just threw me under the bus. That’s awful.”

But it did not take Davis long to understand that he had to change his ways, he said.

“That was the moment that turned everything around,” Davis said. “Once I saw that, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really serious.’ There’s nothing I can do. This guy right here, he’s just tough. I can’t beat him. So I just have to straighten myself up, and that’s what I did. I straightened myself up and did everything he asked me to do. I became a different person.”

Davis was a key member of three consecutive 49ers teams that reached the NFC Championship under coach Jim Harbaugh. He twice recorded 13-touchdown seasons with the 49ers. He ranks fourth all-time in 49ers history with 55 touchdown receptions – behind only Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Gene Washington.

Davis is in his second season with Washington – his hometown team. On Wednesday, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins described Davis as a "team-first" player who can still "bring the juice." Davis showed a glimpse of the elite speed he had as a youngster when he broke free for a 69-yard reception against Kansas City recently on Monday Night Football.

On Sunday, Davis will face his former team for the first time in his career. Davis, who won a Super Bowl ring after being sent to the Denver Broncos in a 2015 mid-season trade, said he still wonders if he might have a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers if Harbaugh had not made the switch at quarterback in 2012 from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.

“You know what, I think about that sometimes,” Davis said. “And I think about what if Alex had stayed in the starting role. What if he had that role? Would it have been a situation where we would’ve won the Super Bowl? I don’t know.

“That’s just a question that will always linger. Everyone wants to know. What if? What if? At the end of the day, what is written is written. Kaepernick had a shot and he did really well. He didn’t do anything wrong. The game just didn’t go in our favor. We didn’t win it. There’s always going to be what-ifs.”

Kaepernick played very well in the second half of the season and into the playoffs. The 49ers fell short in Super Bowl XLVII, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31. Kaepernick threw for 302 yards, and Davis had six receptions for 104 yards.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.