Fred Davis has been patient this year, doing everything that is expected of him.
It was understood that Davis needed a career year after his four-game drug suspension, and being the franchise player only amplified that responsibility.
However, after two games it seemed that he was the outcast, and his 52 total receiving yards didn't come close to fulfilling expectations.
It wasn't as if he was dropping passes or running poor routes, either. He simply looked out of favor within the Redskins camp, and doubts began to surface about his ability to coexist with his new quarterback in the Robert Griffin-led offense.
The last two games have marked a change in fortune for the tight end as the Redskins have adjusted the offense to keep their attack fresh. Davis has averaged 80 yards per game over this period and is starting to show what he is capable of.
Washington needs Davis to continue this ascent and become one of the top five tight ends in the NFL.
This is what his contract indicates, and if the team is to win more games this year, this is what is demanded of him.
His value to the team is measured in more than yards, and it’s worth taking a closer look at a couple of ways he has impacted games this year.
Davis has been useful in run support this year, helping Alfred Morris gain yards.
The 2011 Fred Davis was a little enigmatic when it came to blocking. There would be one game where it looked like he had turned a corner, then the next game he would let players by or be shown up by poor positional play.
Letting Chris Cooley go didn’t bode well for the Redskins’ tight end position, and the loss of running back Tim Hightower weakened pass-protection further. Niles Paul was raw and Davis was inconsistent. Adding a rookie quarterback to the mix seemed like a recipe for disaster.
The 2012 Davis has demonstrated consistent blocking ability, which was evident even in games when he wasn’t targeted by Griffin. Take the first game in New Orleans, for instance.
Pierre Garcon gets the touchdown and Josh Morgan clears the way for him, but it’s Davis who shifts position at the line of scrimmage and leads the defense off.
It’s obviously a designed play, set up to resemble a running play, similar to a Single Back Strong Right Double Tight Sweep. However, instead of making the handoff to the back, Griffin instead goes over the middle to Garcon.
The receiving threat of Davis is key here, as it means that all three linebackers follow him to the strong side as the ball is snapped. However, Davis instead stays in to block. With the defense flat-footed by covering the checkdown or the run, Garcon is free for what turned out to be an 88-yard touchdown.
Davis’ blocking continued to improve against the Rams, where he provided decent support for Griffin as he gained considerable yards on the ground.
On several occasions, Griffin could have—and probably should have—got the ball off to Davis instead of using him as a blocker, but Davis did his part nonetheless.
Davis’ physicality allows him to effectively block linebackers and provide good run support, as well as helping him get open in passing plays. This was evident against the Bengals, when Davis frequently found himself in space but wasn’t targeted.
Davis was able to find space as Tampa Bay tried to close the pocket.
In his limited action as a receiving target in St. Louis, Davis made an excellent sliding catch as Griffin threw on the run, gaining an important first down.
That was a catch that no other tight end on the roster—including Cooley—would have made and it prolonged the drive.
This continued against Cincinnati. Davis was targeted seven times, caught each throw and gained 90 yards. The deep threat of Leonard Hankerson meant that Davis could find space in the underneath routes and let his athleticism do the rest.
This was particularly evident against the Buccaneers, when Davis was able to use the aggressiveness of the Bucs’ defense against them and get open for the catch.
Late in the fourth quarter, Griffin was in the process of engineering his first game-winning drive. There was one minute and 20 seconds left on the clock and the Tampa Bay defense blitzed on first-and-10 from the Washington 35-yard line.
Griffin picked up the blitz and Davis was assigned to run the hot route, enabling Griffin to get the ball away and keep the chains moving. Davis did more than that, however, and instead turned a small gain into 20 yards.
Davis’ quickness in tight spaces allowed him to escape and gain yards beyond expectation, making him an ideal choice to run the route in that scenario.
However, he did have a little help from the Bucs in this case. As was outlined by Sander Philipse at BucsNation.com, for some reason no one was picking up Davis, which made his job that much easier.
Davis wasn’t favoured in the preseason, and his lack of involvement in the early games this year caused some confusion among fans. Why give him the franchise tag if he isn’t going to be used?
It now seems like it was all part of a game plan to keep the offense unpredictable, and by slowly introducing Davis to the passing game, Mike and Kyle Shanahan are making the team that much more difficult to defend against.