BOARDMAN, OHIO -- Following an exhibition game this year in which the 49ers rolled up 260 yards on the ground, right tackle Anthony Davis was asked if he was happy with the offensive line's performance. Yeah, he said, except for the jerk who had a false start on San Francisco's opening drive.
That jerk? Anthony Davis.
During Davis' first two years in the league, there were plenty of critics who questioned why the 49ers would trade up two slots in the 2010 draft to take an immature underclassman with conditioning issues in the first round. After Davis committed 10 penalties -- seven were false starts - and gave up 11 Â½ sacks his rookie year, the criticism only gained volume.
After three games this year, however, Davis' only critic is himself. On Wednesday, Jets coach Rex Ryan gushed about the 6-5, 323-pounder, calling Davis one of the "premiere" right tackles in the game. "You got a guy who has all the athleticism that you look for," Ryan said. "(He's) a power player, he finishes, he's good in pass protection, a tremendous athlete. I think he has all the tools."
Davis winced at the compliment and wondered whether the Jets coach was trying to set him up. "I don't take praise well," Davis said. "I feel like they're trying to make you complacent because I'm not near where I want to be. There's a lot of work to be done."
On Sunday Davis will play 40 miles from where he grew up in Piscataway, N.J. and 35 miles from where he played college football at Rutgers. At Piscataway High School Davis played on the same team as Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson, who promises to be in the spotlight because he takes over for injured starter Darrelle Revis, widely recognized as the best cornerback in the league.
At Rutgers, Davis played for hard-noses coach Greg Schiano and gained a reputation for his feisty play. He's taken that east-coast mean-streak to the Bay Area. He teams with guard Alex Boone on the right side of the offensive line, giving that unit an edginess it hasn't had since Derek Deese, Ron Stone and Jeremy Newberry played in San Francisco a decade ago.
Said Boone earlier this year: "We have the same mind frame, and we think alike. We're not out there to be your friend - we're out there to pound you and beat you up."
Running back Frank Gore said he picked up on Davis' fiery attitude immediately. Because of it, Gore knew Davis would succeed even when he was struggling his rookie season."He always had that 'dogness' in him," Gore said, coining a new term. "I knew he was going to be all right his rookie year because I knew how mean and nasty he is."
In his first two years, Davis would have stretches where he'd live up to his No. 11 overall draft status. As a rookie in 2010, for instance, he shut down Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews for a game in a season in which Matthews had 13 1/2 sacks.
But for every 10 solid plays, there would be an error. This year, the focus has been on consistency. He's been very good - dominating at times, just ask Detroit's Cliff Avril - in his first three outings, and he has yet to commit a penalty during the regular season.
Noting that Davis still is only 22 years old - his birthday is next month - offensive coordinator Greg Roman said one of the reasons for Davis' improvement is that he and fellow third-year player Mike Iupati finally have had a full year in the 49ers offseason program. They came in as wide-eyed rookies in 2010. Last year's offseason was wiped out by the lockout.
"Really from March on we've seen nothing but improvement -- fundamentally, mentally, recognition-wise, and Anthony's playing at a high level," Roman said. "Are there things that he needs to improvement on? Yes, but everybody does. ... (But) Anthony's the kind of guy I want to go into a conflict with because he's going to fight."
-- Matt Barrows