Demario Davis: Identifying Davis' Biggest Weakness and How to Fix It
The Jets are hoping that the fast, athletic linebacker can contribute right away on special teams and sub-packages, all the while developing into Bart Scott's eventual replacement as the full-time inside linebacker next to David Harris.
While Davis' athleticism and explosive play is certainly enticing, there are several weaknesses in his game that he must overcome before he can be considered a full-time starter. (After all, if he did not have any flaws, he would have been a first-round pick.)
Davis plays with a relentless motor and incredible explosion, which actually can have a negative impact on his game. Davis is so fast and quick to react that he can actually overrun his assignment and wind up in the wrong spot.
The following video of Arkansas State versus Northern Illinois provides a few examples of this.
At the 0:51 mark, Davis is very slow to react to the running play. When he does, he simply sprints into the block, getting himself engulfed and out of the play.
Another example of this can be found at the 1:38 mark. Ignore the fact that the runner only gained a few yards; look instead at how Davis takes a few false steps before he even starts to get involved.
Davis needs to gather better when running down plays from the inside-out. He is so fast that he can overrun guys at times and fly off them as his momentum takes him outside on a tackle. Against one-cut runners at the NFL level, he could have a tough time gathering to make a secure tackle on the run.
Just imagine being a young linebacker like Davis: The ball is snapped, and the hole for the running back opens up. Davis, with his tremendous explosion and speed, is in the hole as soon as it opens. Problem is, the runner isn't even there! He's actually on the other side of the field after making his cut to the backside block, and Davis is out of position.
The above photo is a perfect example of the importance of patience and reading the fullback. This above play can be either a stretch to the outside or a cut up the middle—all depending on what the fullback does and what the runner views as his best option.
Davis struggles when he sees the hole and immediately reacts; a tendency that is certain to get you out of position in the NFL.
How to fix it
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for this kind of mental issue. Coming from a smaller school at Arkansas State, Davis was able to get away with using his incredible athleticism, able to make up for mistakes with his physical prowess.
In the NFL, the game is so much faster than the college game that it is a huge jump for even the top Division I linebackers to adjust to. Defenders see run concepts that are far more advanced and faster than anything they have seen at the college level.
In addition, many teams are trending toward using zone-blocking schemes to adapt to "one-cut" runners. Rarely do teams simply line up and try to gain yards with brute force; offenses such as Houston's and Washington's add a level of complexity to the game to throw defenses off.
The good news is that this is not a physical issue; Davis has all of the tools and athletic prowess to get the job done. However, this is not a quick-fix technique issue either; having a knack for knowing when to act and where to be as a linebacker is not a trait that comes with a few weeks of practice. Davis is going to have to go through some growing pains.
So, how then do the Jets go about making Davis a more efficient linebacker?
While training camp is where Davis is going to get most of his work in, preseason will be crucial for Davis. In preseason, Davis will be tested under the bright lights; conditions in which weaknesses are highlighted.
Even if it may cost the Jets a few extra yards, Rex Ryan would be wise to give him at least a few reps with the first team. Davis needs to get accustomed to playing against opposing offenses that are of the starting-caliber. In particular, Davis would benefit greatly from finding quick, elusive runners like Ahmad Bradshaw behind an NFL offensive line.
When will Davis be able to start?
When discussing the potential of a small-school prospect like Davis, it is almost impossible to tell just how quickly a player will adapt to the NFL. While it would make sense to say that all small-school prospects will experience a steep increase in competition that will stunt their development, there are always exceptions.
Take DeMarcus Ware, a Troy product, who nabbed eight sacks in his rookie season. This is not to say that Davis will be the next DeMarcus Ware, but it is important not to assume all small-school prospects will struggle early on.
However, Davis' issues with instincts is not an easily coachable issue to fix. In fact, some will argue that instincts cannot be coached; they can only be gained by experience.
What Davis does have on his side is tremendous dedication and work ethic. He has been willing to work with linebackers coach Bob Sutton on days off. His veteran-like attitude and putting in extra time is only going to help Davis overcome his deficiencies even faster.
As a result, while Davis' skills are certainly exciting and he could certainly develop into a quality player, Jets fans need to tame their expectations for the former Red Wolf and allow him enough time to adjust to the pro game.
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