By: Will Burchfield
Six weeks into his NFL career, Jarrad Davis is a man of mixed emotions.
He’s been “happy” with his play at times, “frustrated” at others. The 21-year-old is an honest self-evaluator, and, honestly, he knows he’s capable of a lot more.
“It’s kind of so-so right now. I’ve got a lot of stuff I need to do better as a player and a teammate,” Davis said on Tuesday, sitting atop a towel bin in the Lions’ locker room and unwrapping the tape around his ankle after practice.
The mood was jovial; Detroit’s Week 7 bye had officially arrived. Davis’ teammates were playing ping-pong and corn hole, chirping back and forth as they prepared for a few days off. Some of them were going on vacation. Nearly all of them were headed somewhere other than Detroit.
“Going home!” said veteran linebacker Tahir Whitehead, smiling like a grade-schooler before Christmas break.
But Davis is sticking around.
“Just chillin’, man,” he said. “Staying in Detroit.”
Davis has been a conscientious student since the Lions picked him in the first round of the draft back in April. He’s had his nose in the playbook and his eyes on the film. He’s been anything but bashful in seeking feedback from those around him. (Whitehead, Davis’ neighbor in the locker room, knows this as well as anyone.)
He wants badly to justify the Lions’ faith in him, to prove he can be the every-down middle linebacker they need. Even more, he wants to fulfill his role within the defense, to be a leader his teammates can count on.
But there are inevitable growing pains.
“It’s so new each and every week that I can get prepared as much as I want but it’s still something I’ve never seen before because I’m still a rookie. And I have to understand that,” said Davis.
That’s the hard part — accepting imperfection. Being okay with it. Davis holds himself to such a high standard that it goes against his nature to rationalize mistakes. They simply shouldn’t happen.
And they haven’t, for the most part.
Davis has lived up to his reputation as a terrific on-field communicator. He’s been similarly strong against the run. But he’s had a hard time in coverage and he’s been occasionally outfoxed at the line of scrimmage.
What he’s still trying to achieve is a harmony between mind and body. Less thinking, more reacting.
“That’s the biggest thing, and that’s exactly what you hear. That’s how it was in high school and college. You don’t think as much, you just go out and you know your job and you know what to do,” said Davis. “Now it’s just letting your body go on auto-pilot and executing your job the best way you know possible.”
There have been times this season when he’s found that sweet spot, when he’s entered that zone where everything comes naturally. It’s a state of consciousness in which he’s spent nearly all of his football career. But he’s flitted in and out of it as a rookie, mostly because his instincts are still being honed at the NFL level.
“There was a few plays in the Giants game where I was doing what I need to do, and then a little bit in the Carolina game as well. But it came on a little bit later in that game. Just being able to stay in that focused state of mind, to continue to play how I know I can has been a tough challenge for me so far,” said Davis.
Despite his frustration with his own play, Davis is tied for third on the team with 22 tackles. Account for the fact he missed two games with a concussion, and his numbers grow more impressive still. The Lions drafted Davis to be the general of the defense, and there’s still every reason to believe he can be that.
Back in the preseason, Davis had a particularly tough game against the Patriots. Frustrated and tired, he talked afterward about how it was the fastest pace of play he’d ever experienced on a football field. He vowed to adjust.
And he believes he has.
“I definitely do, I feel like it’s slowing down,” Davis said. “I feel like I’m getting a lot better and being a lot smarter, understanding things a lot more. But there’s still a lot that’s coming.”