By: Will Burchfield
Jarrad Davis hasn’t felt like that on a football field in a long time.
He was winded. He was frustrated. His head was just about spinning.
And you know what?
“It was a great experience,” he said.
The rookie linebacker was thrown into the ringer on Friday night in the Lions’ third preseason game. These weren’t the Colts or the Jets. These were the world-champion Patriots, playing and executing at a ruthless offensive pace.
They scored on their first three drives. They made the Lions’ defense, which was proud of its play through the first two weeks of the preseason, look sheepish. At the middle of it all was Davis, who was burned twice in coverage on the opening drive, first by Julian Edelman for a 23-yard gain and later by Chris Hogan for a touchdown.
Davis said it was the fastest pace of play he’s experienced in his young NFL career.
“It was a situation I haven’t been in in a long time. I really had to learn, as a first-year guy, okay, you gotta bounce back, you gotta put this on the back burner, you gotta go get the next play. And it was a challenge at first, I’m not gonna lie to you. It was really challenging, tough,” Davis said. “But it just showed me this is what we have to do, this is how we have to work, this is how we have to prepare now.”
The Patriots might be bullies, but they’re also teachers.
“It’s a horrible situation to be in,” Davis said, “but at the same time we got to learn a ton.”
For one, and this is something that first struck Davis in OTAs and continues to resonate today, there’s no such thing as being over-prepared. There’s always another aspect of the upcoming opponent that can be studied and dissected.
“I know inside what I learned,” he said, trying to find the right way to put it. “There’s never anything too small to cover. I feel like that’s the biggest thing. We knew that coming in, but that’s something that really stood out tonight. You’ve got to know every little thing that you can.”
For another, practice makes perfect. Davis goes as hard as anyone on the practice field, but he learned on Friday night that he hasn’t been going hard enough. He wasn’t burned by Edelman because of a mismatch, he insisted. He was burned by his own fatigue.
“Me getting out there and being frustrated and being tired, I beat myself on that play. And I let my teammates down,” Davis said. “It just all comes down to preparation, that’s the biggest thing in this league. I need to basically put myself in that situation I was in tonight in practice. I need to be as tired as possible and I need to be able to make plays when I’m tired. That’s only one piece of it, but that’s a big piece.”
Davis got better as the first half wore on, and finished the night with eight tackles. He was learning and adjusting at the same time, absorbing new info and applying it on the fly.
“Just going through the game, just the progression of it, it slowed down. I was able to pick up on a lot of things, understand what they were trying to do,” said Davis, before picking out another lesson. “In the NFL, you have to be ready for that from the first play.”
Jim Caldwell, while praising Davis’ work ethic and leadership skills from the start, has also curbed expectations for the 21-year-old. It’s not that Caldwell doesn’t believe Davis will be great — it’s that he knows it takes time to get there.
Friday night was the first batch of evidence.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever said that he’s going to be absolutely perfect. You’re going to learn along the way. And you have to be able to learn to deal with guys that have skills, speed, quickness, size, coming at you nonstop. It takes a little adjusting,” Caldwell said. “We have some young guys that I think learned a few lessons, and we’ll get better for it.”
Davis didn’t enjoy Friday night’s game. He didn’t enjoy being turned around and taken advantage of. But he knows it was a valuable experience.
The Patriots gave him a model to replicate.
“I’m really excited to get back to work with my teammates,” he said.