As far as the likes of Vernon Davis, Derek Carrier, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Asante Cleveland are concerned, they hope the hiring of Tony Sparano as tight ends coach is more than a ceremonial title.
They should want Sprano to fix them, literally and figuratively.
Indeed, the San Francisco 49ers’ tight end group suffered through an injury-filled and shockingly unproductive season in 2014.
Combined, the quintet combined for 39 receptions for 423 yards, averaging 10.9 yards per catch, and two touchdowns.
Granted, pass-catchers can’t catch balls if they’re not thrown to them, but the lack of targets would speak to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lack of faith in the tight ends in general, Davis in particular.
Consider: After making 13 touchdown catches in 2013, Davis had two in 2014, with none after the opening game at Dallas. The two-time Pro Bowl selection was not targeted at all in the red zone after kickoff weekend and his 26 catches were his fewest since his rookie season of 2006. His 9.4-yards-per-catch average was a career-low.
Carrier added nine receptions for 105 yards and McDonald, a second-round draft pick in 2013, had two catches for 30 yards. Celek checked in with two catches for 53 yards. Cleveland did not catch a pass in six games.
Granted, injuries played a huge part as Davis missed two games with back and ankle injuries, and Carrier (foot), McDonald (back) and Celek (ankle) all finished the season on injured reserve.
So, besides being healthier in 2015, how can Sparano help resurrect a TE crew that regressed under the defensive-minded Eric Mangini after combining for 62 catches for 1,007 yards (16.2 yards per catch) and 13 TDs in 2013?
Sparano, most recently the Oakland Raiders interim head coach, does have experience with tight ends. Granted, not on a daily level since 2004 with the Dallas Cowboys. But Sparano did tutor the aforementioned nine-time Pro Bowl tight end Witten during the first two years of his NFL career.
And Witten might be Canton-bound with 943 catches for 10,502 yards and 57 TD catches in 12 seasons.
The Niners would be satisfied with a return to relevance for their tight ends under Sparano ... for now.