The Curious Case of Nate Davis: Will 49ers QB Ever Make It in the NFL?

Blaine SpenceSenior Writer IAugust 24, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 15: Nate Davis #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 15, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The 49ers defeated the Colts 37-17. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

What if you threw a party and nobody came?

Well, okay, only your neighbor came—who doesn’t really like you but showed up because of the free beer.

That was the case with Nate Davis and his Pro Day last year. The only team to attend was the Indianapolis Colts, who reside just an hour’s drive away from Ball State—Ball State is located in Muncie, Indiana.

For his lone guest, Davis completed 61 of 70 passes—and five of the nine incompletions were due to butter-fingered receivers.

So why is it that a team that already has an indestructible “robot” (just ask Eric Davis) for a quarterback was the only team to view Davis’ performance?

Were teams already satisfied with Davis’ talent? There is no question he can play and that he has a cannon for an arm. Davis set all kinds of passing records at Ball State, and he was named the 2008 MAC Offensive Player of the Year.

Other successful MAC quarterbacks with numbers comparable to Davis’ are Ben “No means no!” Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.

Or could it be that teams were scared off by the fact that Davis has dyslexia—a learning and reading disability, a condition that would make it harder for him to assimilate an NFL playbook?

Recognizing his huge potential, and knowing he would need extra help and time to develop, the San Francisco 49ers invested a fifth-round pick (171st overall) on Davis during the 2009 NFL Draft.

Just a little more than a year removed from the draft, we are still left with more questions than answers regarding the enigmatic quarterback.

After performing admirably in mop-up duty during the 49ers’ first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, Davis was expected to see more “meaningful playing time” against the Minnesota Vikings.

Davis was inserted in the game on the 49ers’ first possession of the second half. You can’t fault Davis too much for what happened on that series.

On 1st-and-10, Davis was sacked for an 11-yard loss after Alex (“pounded steak”) Boone was beaten badly off the edge by Vikings defensive end (and Olympic hopeful in the shot put) Brian Robison.

I always thought “meat” was more of a term used to describe baseball players. But if Boone keeps getting beat like that, he will be grabbing some pine and wondering if all those mallet marks he is covered in will ever come out.

On the next play, Davis hit Anthony Dixon right in the hands on a dump-off, and Dixon couldn’t find the handle.

On the last play of the series, Davis delivered a ball downfield to Ted Ginn Jr., who couldn’t haul it in. The ball was a bit behind Ginn, but those are the kinds of catches good receivers make.

So, we didn’t learn much about Davis on that first series, but then the fun—and frustration—began.

On the 49ers’ next offensive series, Davis completed a nice little throw to TE Nate Byham for six yards, and then, while the announcers were yet again fawning over Brett Favre, Davis scrambled around into the end zone, stepped up out to the one-yard line, and delivered a 65-yard strike to Ginn (the actual gain on the play was 60 yards).

It was a pass so beautiful, it prompted Cris Collinsworth to exclaim, “Oh my goodness, this looked like John Elway throwing this ball.”

Oh yes he did.

Davis missed a few throws, and another couple were dropped by receivers (in one case it was actually Byham getting dropped by a safety), but all in all not a bad night for a third-string quarterback that doesn’t get many reps in practice.

However, late in the game, on a 3rd-and-6, Davis scrambled and went into his slide a full yard short of the first down marker. With a little more effort Davis could have easily picked up the first down.

Quite frankly, earlier in the game, when Davis did pick up the first down on a scramble, replays appeared to show Davis getting a favorable spot as he appeared to go into his slide prior to reaching the first down marker.

Even so, Davis’ performance had the attention of Collinsworth, who remarked during the game, “I don’t know what else you have to see out of Nate Davis. This young man...his feet are quick. His release is quick. He’s seeing the field. He’s not hesitating, and he’s got a rocket....”

Well, Cris, maybe it is what you don’t see.

After the game, head coach Mike Singletary was asked about Davis ’ performance. Singletary wasn’t impressed. He mentioned the third down scramble that came up short, and also that Davis had missed some protection calls. He then went on to question Davis’ work ethic. Ouch.

In a 49ers world—in a Mike Singletary 49ers world—you had better come with a desire to play, a desire to get better, and the willingness to work your butt off—and not just during training camp.

The 49ers have given Davis every opportunity to learn the playbook. Given Davis’ learning disability, you would have thought he would have spent the offseason cramming to get ahead of the curve. Instead, he shows up to camp unprepared.

To make matters worse, Singletary—and even the usually reticent Alex Smith—is questioning the effort Davis puts forth in practice, the time he spends on game film, and his attitude.

Singletary knows how to motivate his players. He knows what to say, and more importantly, he knows what not to say. Praising the efforts of Davis in a preseason game would only convince Davis that he is putting in enough effort.

Clearly, that is not the case.

Great players not only have great talent, they also have great work ethic—recent Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Rice being the prime example. Davis needs to grasp that concept if ever expects to start in the NFL.

I don’t know what it will take for No. 7 to get out of the coach’s doghouse, but it is certainly going to take more than a 60-yard pass in a preseason game.


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