Nate Davis is ready to take off the gloves

Nate Davis (AP/Donna McWilliam)

He's still the team's No. 3 quarterback, but Nate Davis has been studying the playbook and preparing to play. 49ers coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye want to see what he can do against better competition.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – As usual, Nate Davis spent most of Thursday morning's practice session at the San Francisco 49ers training camp watching from the sideline. When you're a No. 3 quarterback in the NFL, the job description can be summarized in one word: watch.

Davis did it last season, going inactive in all 16 games, and he's likely to do it again behind starter Alex Smith and veteran backup David Carr. But based on his first preseason game and his work in camp, Davis may begin seeing more action and better competition.

Coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye have said they want to see what Davis can do when he's facing tougher defenses, and they might start Sunday night when the Niners play the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park.

"We want to put him in situations where he's playing against better competition earlier in a game and see how he fares that way," Singletary said. "The protection part of it, just learning where the fire is coming from -- that's where he has to get to. He has to be able to do that on the move. So far, we're just working at it."

It's a chance Davis, 23, has been waiting for. He had a 22-12 record at Ball State and was drafted by the 49ers in the fifth round in 2009, but he continues to be what Singletary calls "a work in progress." His time is spent observing Smith and Carr and hoping for the few reps he gets in practice.

"It's hard," he said. "For me, I've never had to sit in my life. But then, one thing that happens with that is that you learn a lot more also. You just have to keep on working and studying the playbook."

That hasn't always been easy. Davis has a learning disability that has made absorbing the 49ers playbook somewhat difficult. But with a full year of learning and watching, he has become more comfortable with the team's offensive system.

"With our core plays, it feels like the game has slowed down for me because I know what I'm doing," he said. "Last year, it was just a big rush. But now, I feel like I know what I'm doing, so I can take my time and go through my progressions."

Singletary said it was possible he could insert Davis with the second team, and Raye suggested it might come as early as Sunday. Against the Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday's preseason opener, Davis completed 5 of 6 passes for 84 yards.

"The one ability he has," Raye said, "is that if a guy is open, he'll hit him. He will get the ball to him. He's in a position where he needs to play early on against guys who have played in the NFL. He needs to play at that level and see where he is in his development."

One change Davis has made is shedding the gloves he's worn since college. He decided to take them off last week and played glove-less against the Colts.

"I just felt like it was time to take them off," he said. "The main thing about the gloves is that centers sweat a lot, so sometimes the gloves would get wet and it would be hard to hold on to the ball. I was just like, I'll take them off. I stayed after practice and kept on throwing without the gloves so I could get a good feel of it."

Now he'll get a chance to show his coaches what he can do without them.

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