Davis More Comfortable in Second Year
Nick Wagoner Senior Writer
Back at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead made it clear that they had no intention of adding a quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The duo went so far as to say that they hadn’t really even scouted this year’s crop of quarterback prospects. Sure enough, April’s draft came and went without adding any more signal callers.
That’s largely a function of the presence of starter Sam Bradford, whom the Rams believe is ready to take another step forward this year. But it’s also a testament to another young quarterback on the roster whom the Rams believe can help out at the position if called upon.
Signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft, Austin Davis impressed in the preseason with his improvisational play making skills and earned himself a roster spot.
Despite only being active in the first week of the season before ceding the backup job to veteran Kellen Clemens, Davis did enough in Fisher’s eyes to become the de facto No. 2 quarterback regardless of whether Clemens returned as a free agent or not.
“We’ve got Austin Davis,” Fisher said in Indianapolis. “I was really happy with his progress. Still there’s a possibility that we would bring Kellen back. Kellen’s an outstanding locker room guy and very competitive. And if that were the case we’d probably flip things to where Austin would be (No.) 2, Kellen would be 3. We got a chance to see Austin in the preseason, and he’s got some ability.”
The Rams did opt to bring back the veteran Clemens, signing him to a contract on April 16. While Bradford is entrenched as the starter, it appears Davis and Clemens will actually compete for the backup job heading into this year’s training camp.
As far as Davis is concerned, that’s just fine, citing the strong bond amongst the quarterbacks as a way of making the competition better for the team as a whole.
“I think competition is really good,” Davis said. “I think our quarterback room as a whole, we have really good relationships and we all want to make this team better. The best way to do that is to compete with one another in a healthy way.”
In fact, Davis gives credit to Clemens for helping him out as a rookie and continuing to help him this year even if it means a potential flip-flop on the depth chart.
“Lucky for me, Kellen is a great guy and he understands that,” Davis said. “He understands what it takes and how to handle himself in this type of situation. He’s shown me a lot about his character and who he is as a man. So it’s been a really neat deal and a real blessing to be here and be able to do that with him.”
Feeling at ease in the meeting room is just one way in which Davis believes his game is evolving heading into his second season. Unlike Bradford before him, Davis gets to stay in the same system from his rookie year to his second year, a season in which Fisher believes most young players make their biggest leap.
Whereas Davis came to the Rams as a bit of a raw talent last year, getting by on his athleticism and ability to create something out of nothing, he’s now got the experience and knowledge of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offensive scheme to run the offense more efficiently.
Schottenheimer has taken notice of Davis’ development during the team’s offseason program.
“He’s doing good,” Schottenheimer said. “The thing Austin did last year, he didn’t always know what he was doing, but he did move the team in the preseason and ultimately that’s what you’re trying to get done as a quarterback - to move the team. This year you see him being much faster with his decisions, maybe a little bit more accurate with his throws. He’s got a better feel for what we’re teaching footwork wise. Again, another guy having a good spring.”
For any rookie entering the league, the adjustment can be difficult but the work required of quarterbacks probably goes beyond any other position. Davis admits that his head was spinning a bit when he first arrived in St. Louis but through the help of Bradford and Clemens, he began to pick up on things more and more as the year went along.
As the team’s third quarterback, Davis was not only inactive on most game days but practice repetitions were few and far between as well, save for the occasional scout team work.
In an effort to stay in tune with the offense, Davis found himself sharpening his “mental rep” skills. Mental reps have become something of a cliché in NFL circles but they are no less important for players who aren’t getting regular opportunities to do the physical work in practice.
“I think I have always focused really hard on my mental approach to this game because at quarterback that is so important,” Davis said. “I hate the feeling of not knowing what to do. It’s just a terrible feeling to be behind center and be confused. I always did that, just try to be as familiar as you can. But at the same time, it’s tough and it can get foggy. So you just have to keep rolling with it.”
In addition to walking through the plays mentally while Bradford and Clemens actually ran them, Davis made a reputation for himself as a gym rat, regularly staying late into the night to study with Bradford and Clemens or do extra film work.
“It becomes your profession,” Davis said. “It’s not college ball anymore. It’s not just going to practice and then go hang out with your boys and do nothing all day. You really have to spend time studying it like it is your job and then come out here and apply it.”
Upon returning for the offseason program, Davis continued to devote himself to doing as much work as possible. When he returned to the field for the start of Organized Team Activities, Davis said he felt more comfortable doing everything, whether it’s calling plays, handling the huddle or anything else that goes with the job.
“It’s my first time really getting a few reps here and there so every rep is important,” Davis said. “I think just generally the longer you go, the more you keep working you pick up on stuff every day.”
And while Davis said he is a bit more at ease with his position in terms of knowing the offense, having a rapport with his teammates and coaches and all of the things that go with having a year in the league under his belt, he is well aware that now is not a time to relax and rest on his laurels.
“You can never be comfortable,” Davis said. “I have still got tons to learn and do. I have not had that many reps. Reps are limited in this league so I still have a long ways to go and hopefully a lot of reps to take.”