49ers roster turnover: Have the tight ends improved?

Bob Levey

The 49ers return their top tight end in Vernon Davis, but they've made a big change, swapping Vance McDonald in for Delanie Walker. Does that and the addition of an undrafted free agent leave the 49ers better, worse of the same compared to the end of last season?

The 49ers rookies report to training camp in less than a week, with the veterans following them five days later. We're continuing our countdown to training camp with a series of articles titled "49ers roster turnover." I'm going through the various position groups and considering how the roster has changed over the last 12 months. We'll take a look at the team's depth chart heading into the first preseason game last year, prior to Week 1 of the regular season, the Super Bowl and then how it currently stands. Four depth charts give us an idea of how the roster developed over the course of the year.

Today we take a look at tight end. The 49ers return their best tight end in Vernon Davis, but they've switched things up by letting Delanie Walker depart in free agency, and drafting Vance McDonald. Here is a look at the how the depth chart has shaken out over the last 12 months.

Preseason 2012 depth chart

TE: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Nate Byham, Konrad Reuland, Garrett Celek, Kyle Nelson

Week 1 depth chart

TE: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Demarcus Dobbs, Garrett Celek

Super Bowl depth chart

TE: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Garrett Celek

Current depth chart

TE: Vernon Davis, Garrett Celek
F-TE: Vance McDonald, MarQueis Gray

The 49ers tight end depth chart has seen some changes over the course of the last year, as the 49ers have tried to figure out their backup options. Although Delanie Walker was technically listed as the No. 2 tight end, his work as a jack of all trades made him arguably as much a starter as Vernon Davis. He handled basic tight end duties, but he also worked in the F/H-back/joker/whatever you want to call it role.

The "Current depth chart" comes courtesy of Matt Barrows, while the other depth charts were from official 49ers' press releases. That is why we see the F-TE separated out in the "Current depth chart", but not in the first three. Also, there is no specific word on whether or not Demarcus Dobbs will be handling more tight end work in training camp. My guess is he does, but we'll have to wait and see.

McDonald is getting most of the coverage, and rightfully so, given that he will be attempting to fill Delanie Walker's extensive role with the team. The 49ers improvement or regression at tight end will be impacted by how Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick connect, and how McDonald fills in for Walker. All reports out of camp indicate that he is a very good catcher of the ball. The question as we head into training camp is how he handles the extensive blocking duties. There is no real blocking during the offseason workout program, so we should get an idea pretty quickly where McDonald stands.

While McDonald is getting extensive coverage, the sleeper storyline comes in the form of undrafted free agent MarQueis Gray. The 49ers signed the former Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback/running back/wide receiver with the intention of converting him into a tight end/h-back. Given that he is transitioning to a new position, he faces an uphill battle to earn a roster spot.

However, if he can show some things in training camp, it will be interesting to see how the 49ers handle him with waivers. If he has a solid preseason, does the team try and slip him through to the practice squad? Or do they keep him over or along with Garrett Celek? It's probably a little too early to make any significant judgments about Gray given that like McDonald, he has yet to take part in NFL blocking work so far. Nonetheless, I have a hunch that Gray could turn into a KSWOF type of player come August.

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