SANTA CLARA (AP) — Vernon Davis is anxious to get back on the field with the San Francisco 49ers and help them build momentum for the playoffs during Sunday’s regular-season finale against Arizona.
He still has to be cleared to play first.
Davis practiced in a non-contact black jersey for the second consecutive day Friday and is taking the necessary steps, according to NFL-mandated protocol, to return from a concussion he sustained during last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers have a pressing need for their starting tight end to return after the team placed starting wide receiver Mario Manningham on injured reserve early Friday, leaving San Francisco without its second-leading receiver for the rest of the season.
Manningham tore knee ligaments after catching a pass in the third quarter of San Francisco’s 42-13 loss at Seattle. Davis was hurt in the first quarter after absorbing a crushing hit from safety Kam Chancellor that dislodged the football from Davis near the goal line. Davis left the game after that play and did not return.
Chancellor was penalized for unnecessary roughness on the play, and Davis said Friday the hit was “brutal” and one of the hardest he ever has taken in seven NFL seasons. Davis, who gained clearance from an independent neurologist and the 49ers’ team physician to resume non-contact activity Thursday, could be cleared to play if he passes the final step in protocol — contact simulation — before Sunday’s game.
“Tomorrow he’ll go through the final progression,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday. “He’s on course, but that’s something the doctors have full control over.”
When asked if he felt 100 percent recovered, Davis said, “I’m all right.” But he made clear his intention to play against the Cardinals as the 49ers look to clinch their second consecutive NFC West title. San Francisco also can capture the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs with a win Sunday and a Green Bay loss at Minnesota.
“I’m thinking I have to be ready for this game,” Davis said. “That’s the way I’m approaching it. There’s a lot on the line. No matter what happens, we have to win this game. So my mind is focused on getting out there and helping my teammates win this game any way I can. I’m ready to play.”
Davis, a Pro Bowler in 2009 who led the 49ers in receptions twice in the past three seasons, has seen his production drop significantly this year, most notably since he recorded a season-high six receptions during a Nov. 19 victory over Chicago.
Davis has just five catches for 56 yards in San Francisco’s five games since then.
The Niners figure to get Davis more involved when he does return with Manningham joining backup receiver Kyle Williams on injured reserve. Davis was San Francisco’s top receiving weapon in the playoffs last season, when he caught 10 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in two games as the 49ers reached the NFC championship game.
“You’re definitely right that I want to contribute in that way,” Davis said. “My time will come when I’m getting more balls.”
If that time isn’t Sunday, and Davis is unable to play against the Cardinals for the first time this season, the 49ers likely will give more playing time to their two backup tight ends, Delanie Walker and undrafted rookie Garrett Celek.
With Davis on the sideline last week, Walker had a season-high four receptions for 54 yards and Celek had a career-high two catches for 41 yards — Celek’s first receptions in nine games.
“My job every week is to prove I can play and be the No. 1 tight end,” Walker said. “With Vernon down, it just gives me more opportunity to get the ball. I’ll take Vernon’s (position), and when we go with two tight ends, (Celek) will take Vernon’s and I’ll do the same role I usually do.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman — who since late November has lost three of his regular contributors in Manningham, Williams and running back Kendall Hunter — is prepared to get his other tight ends involved if Davis is held out against the Cardinals.
“They’ll probably split different things,” Roman said. “Delanie is such a valuable asset as the (No. 1) tight end and also as the second tight end. He can do both and does do both at times. You can build a lot of different formations with him and do a lot of things. It will definitely be a mix and match.”