SAN FRANCISCO --- Vernon Davis credits Tony Gonzalez for offering some tips over the years. They both can credit Jimmy Raye for giving them plenty of chances along the way.
Davis is taking on a bigger role for the San Francisco 49ers each week under Raye's direction as the team's seventh offensive coordinator in as many years. Gonzalez is the rock of stability in the Atlanta passing game.
These two could be central figures today when their teams face off at Candlestick Park. The 49ers (3-1) are on a roll and sitting atop the NFC West standings, the Falcons (2-1) are looking to bounce back from a 26-10 loss at New England before their bye week.
"See who outperforms who," Davis said with a grin. "Of course I'm going to step my game up."
Davis is tied for ninth among NFL tight ends with 17 receptions to go with three touchdowns, all in the past two games, and Gonzalez is one of three ranked 13th with 13 catches. He has two TDs and leads Atlanta with 160 yards receiving. Gonzalez also has gone 134 consecutive games with at least one catch.
Davis had a career-high seven receptions for 77 yards in his only game against the Falcons, a 20-16 Atlanta win in the teams' last meeting on Nov. 4, 2007.
Raye coached Gonzalez from 1998-2000 in Kansas City. Raye has ties to the Falcons, too, having served as wide receivers coach from 1980-82 and again from 1987-89.
He believes Davis could one day be considered among the top tight ends, right up there with Gonzalez.
"There are some similarities," Raye said. "Vernon, if he continues to progress and play the way he has played, I think he can develop into an upper-echelon player at that position. He has one of the great prerequisites to playing the position: He has wide receiver speed for his size. He's an excellent blocker. He's a problem for the defense in the middle of the secondary. ... And, his attitude has been good in that direction, so I would expect that to happen."
Gonzalez was a star college player at California in Berkeley and grew up watching and admiring the 49ers during their best years: Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Roger Craig.
Former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci was at Cal for a short time with Gonzalez before leaving for the NFL.
"That was one of the teams I wanted to play for," Gonzalez recalled. "I remember thinking 'Man, I'd love to go there.' Jerry Rice was still there, Steve Young was still there. It was a pretty good football team. But, you know, times have changed."
Perhaps they have, but the 49ers are off to their best start since 2002 -- their last winning season -- and already consider themselves a playoff contender in coach Mike Singletary's first full season in charge.
There's a new mentality around this franchise, a winning mode based on Singletary's team-first philosophy. While Singletary provides Davis' biggest influence these days, he still appreciates Gonzalez's helpful words over the years.
"He'd always give me pointers on the game. I remember we'd always talk football," Davis said. "I know Gonzalez really well. We've met at a lot of places, charity events, things like that."