SANTA CLARA -- There are signs pointing to a big season for 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.

There's the rapport that seemed to develop in the NFC title game and Super Bowl last year with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Or the injury to leading receiver Michael Crabtree, leaving a void at the go-to receiver spot.

There was a time that the chance to put up big numbers would've been something that drives Davis. Not anymore.

"I'm just here to contribute," Davis said Sunday. "I'm just a piece of the puzzle. I'm not here for statistics. I'm not here to go to the Pro Bowl. I'm just here to do my job and that's all I can do. Whatever they ask me to do, I'm up for the challenge."

Vernon Davis (85) takes questions from the media during a press conference at the San Francisco 49ers training camp facility in Santa Clara, Sunday, July
Vernon Davis (85) takes questions from the media during a press conference at the San Francisco 49ers training camp facility in Santa Clara, Sunday, July 28, 2013. ( Josie Lepe / Bay Area News Group) Vernon Davis (85) ( Josie Lepe )

It's a mindset Davis sees in Tony Gonzalez, the former Cal tight end who made an about face and decided to return for his 17th NFL season. Gonzalez owns every significant tight end record and is second only to Jerry Rice in career receptions.

"This guy has everything," Davis said of Gonzalez. "He's defined the tight end position. He's a role model for me. I look up to the guy."

The decision to return made him realize what truly drives Gonzalez.

"It's all about that ring," Davis said.

"This is what I play this game for -- that ring, nothing else," Davis said. "Maybe in my younger days, I played for statistics. But now as a young man with the wisdom that I have and the experiences that I've been through, it's all about that ring. That's what I'm here for -- to help these guys get that ring."

Davis' connection with Kaepernick has grown leaps and bounds since he first took over the starting quarterback job last season.

In Kaepernick's first start, Davis caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 32-7 win over Chicago.

But in the next seven games, including the playoff opener against Green Bay, he had only seven catches for 105 yards and no touchdowns. His final regular season numbers of 41 catches, 548 yards and five touchdowns were his worst since 2008.

Vernon Davis (85) takes questions from the media during a press conference at the San Francisco 49ers training camp facility in Santa Clara, Sunday, July
Vernon Davis (85) takes questions from the media during a press conference at the San Francisco 49ers training camp facility in Santa Clara, Sunday, July 28, 2013. ( Josie Lepe / Bay Area News Group) Vernon Davis (85) ( Josie Lepe )

"It takes time to get that connection, that relationship and just to develop something special," Davis said.

That connection blossomed in the NFC title game against Atlanta and two weeks later in the Super Bowl loss to Baltimore. He combined for 11 catches, 210 yards and a touchdown.

What was the difference?

"Experience," Davis said. "You saw Colin developing into a great quarterback and you saw the rest of the guys, including myself, following him, trying to figure him out.

"From the time he started, all the way to the Super Bowl -- total different guy," Davis said. "Touch, precise, decisions, he's talking more. He's being a leader."

The growing connection has been showing up during the first week of training camp and Davis said the work between he and Kaepernick during the offseason has them on the same page. They'll continue to foster that during camp.

"We're putting it all out there and working in training camp," Davis said. "That's what training camp is all about. It's about developing that relationship."

Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. .