The first sign that the San Francisco 49ers were heading to Arizona short-handed at tight end last week? When they cut third-string quarterback Josh Johnson and promoted tight end Asante Cleveland from the practice squad.
The first sign that either Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis or backup Vance McDonald will return from their maladies this weekend for the Niners’ home game against the Philadelphia Eagles? Tuesday’s announcement that San Francisco had signed Johnson to a one-year contract and waived Cleveland.
Davis' limp was significantly less pronounced in the 49ers’ locker room following Sunday’s 23-14 loss at the Arizona Cardinals, a week after he needed crutches to get around following his leg getting rolled up on against the Chicago Bears. But he has yet to practice since.
“I’m feeling great,” Davis told reporters Tuesday. “I’m feeling, it’s day by day, one step at a time. But I’m feeling great. This is going to be a good week for me.”
Wednesday’s practice, and whether Davis or McDonald are on the field, will make for a clearer picture.
With neither the receiving threat that is Davis nor the blocking specialist that is McDonald active against the Cardinals, the 49ers went hurry-up offense early with sets that featured four and sometimes five receivers.
“It was a different part of the game, a different game plan,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday.
“Part of it (was) because we thought it would work, and there was personnel to consider.”
As part of the reimagined offense, sans the Niners’ two top tight ends, running back Frank Gore carried the ball just six times for 10 yards. And in the second half, with the 49ers holding a 14-6 halftime lead, Gore had just one carry, on the second offensive play of the half.
With either Davis or McDonald or both available against the Eagles, Gore’s workload should increase … so long as the Niners do not fall into a big hole early.