It’s noisier than expected on a Friday night at the Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Centre in Santa Clara. It’s after 6:00 p.m. and the spirited sounds coming out of the 49ers locker room suggest a delighted, not defeated atmosphere. Twenty minutes before the uproar, Mike Singletary informed his players of his decision to cancel Saturday’s two minicamp practices as a reward for their hard work in the offseason.
Those invigorated sounds weren’t coming from
That’s Davis’ character in a snapshot. He refuses to let positive feedback dramatically influence his cool and collected outlook on life.
“I have a lot of confidence in my game, but I know I have a long way to go,” said the team’s No. 11 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. “Growing up, when people would tell me, ‘Oh, you’re really, really good!’ In my head, I’m thinking about all the things I need to work on. My response is like, ‘Thank you!’ But really, I know there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Davis just completed a rigorous two-week stretch of on-field work rivaling a college program’s version of spring ball – only, professional players were involved. Morning conditioning sessions at 6:30 were just the tip of the iceberg for rookies like Davis. There were meetings on top of meetings, in which the 20-year-old mauler selected out of Rutgers had to quickly decipher a textbook-sized playbook while acclimating to teammates and coaches.
Davis took it all in stride, all the while sporting his trademark smile.
Good thing his easy-going, positive disposition has made the intense NFL initiation process more enjoyable, considering he was drafted to play a position he’s never played in his life.
“It’s the first time I’ve played right tackle in anything,” said Davis as he settled on top of a short black stool in front of his locker.
The 6-foot-5, 323-pounder played primarily as a left tackle in his three-year college career that saw him start in 32 of 38 games for the Scarlet Knights. The only time Davis spent on the right side of the line was the nine games he started as a right guard.
It was in those other 23 starts at left tackle in which Davis became recognized as one of the nation’s top prospects. The 49ers thought so highly of Davis, they swapped first-round picks with the Denver Broncos and included a fourth-round selection to move up two spots to acquire Davis’ services.
As a 316-pound freshman entering Piscataway High School, Davis had yet to experience his first season of organized football. He was simply too big to play Pop Warner football and had spent most of his free time on the basketball courts of New Jersey.
“I went to a lot of Pop Warner leagues and I tried to play with the older kids, but I was too big,” Davis said with a slight chuckle. “I just had to wait. But I’m kind of thankful that I had to.”
Back then, Davis envisioned himself developing into a professional basketball player. Football was never a consideration. He traveled the country with his nationally-ranked AAU team to play the best competition in his age group. He had serious talent too. At the age of 16, Davis could dunk a basketball while taking off just two feet from inside the free throw line.
“I can do a lot more than I could do back then,” Davis said confidently. “I was dunking when I weighed 350 with two hands. Now that I’ve lost weight, it’s even easier.”
Davis won’t participate in pickup games due to the obligations that come with being in the NFL, but in the past he would occasionally find the urge to show people how athletic he can be at 300-plus pounds.
“Whenever I was near a basketball court, somebody would say, ‘Oh, you can’t dunk a basketball?’” Davis said in a higher pitch mocking someone doubting his athleticism. “It was usually an older guy.”
Tale of Two Coaches
If it wasn’t for John Bizzel and Greg Schiano, Davis might have never found himself on an NFL roster. Davis’ sophomore line coach at Piscataway, and Rutgers’ head coach, equally played important roles in Davis’ development.
Bizzel played the most important role initially, as he urged one of his gifted, inexperienced defensive linemen to continue playing the game of football.
“He always told me I could make it to the NFL. He always had my confidence up,” Davis recalled.
That Piscataway team featured several future first-round picks like Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans Saints 2009) and Kyle Wilson (New York Jets 2010). Playing with that kind of talent opened Davis’ eyes even more to the game of football. Early on, it showed Davis he could be successful in another sport.
“Those guys would tell me that I could be really good and that helped a lot when I first started out. I just listened to my coaches and the encouragement from my teammates and it helped me improve on the field.”
As an unproven sophomore on varsity, Davis lined up as a defensive tackle and at defensive end, in addition to his responsibilities as a left tackle. As the years went on, Davis focused more on the offensive side of the ball. And at the end of his senior year, USA Today named him as a High School All-American at left tackle.
With multiple options on which university to attend, Davis stayed close to home to play for Schiano, a no non-sense coach much like the one he plays for currently in the professional ranks.
“If you can play for Schiano, you can play for anybody,” Davis said, perking up in his chair to finish the statement. “You would never leave Rutgers feeling cheated because your coach didn’t work you hard enough or you didn’t meet long enough.”
Davis went on to start two seasons at left tackle and picked up several accolades in the process. As a junior, he was named to the All-Big East Conference First-Team after starting in all 12 games at left tackle. When it became clear that Davis would be a top tackle prospect, he made the difficult decision to leave school early.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Davis was prepared to answer questions about his weight, his age or any other of the possible concerns held by the various teams. He just didn’t realize how extensive it would get.
Following his successful collegiate career, Davis felt prepared for the NFL and what came along with joining the professional ranks. Now that he was fair game for all the league’s talent evaluators to criticize, Davis tried to show teams his true character and answer any of their questions.
“The Combine was crazy. It’s not what I expected it to be. You think you might have a couple meetings and a work out, but it’s really you having a lot of meetings and a little bit of time to work out.”
Davis met with practically every team, but relished the opportunity to meet with the 49ers and head coach Mike Singletary.
Sitting in a dimly lit hotel room in downtown Indianapolis, Davis wanted to make the best impression possible.
“The meetings were intense. I remember meeting with Coach Singletary, I’m writing on the board for him, and I’m feeling his eyes burning a hole into the back of my head. I got stuck at one point, but somehow got through it.”
From Davis’ account it might sound like his chances of being drafted by the 49ers were blown right there, but that wasn’t the case. The meeting left the 49ers enamored with a man of that size possessing such impressive agility.
The 49ers did their due diligence with the young lineman and liked what they found out after speaking to Davis’ coaches. They brought the young lineman into team headquarters for a visit prior to the draft along with several other draft candidates. After the experience, Davis flew back to New Jersey with his heart set on playing for Singletary.
“It was the best case scenario for me,” Davis said. “I remember talking to my brother at our draft party, and telling him how much I wanted to play for Coach Singletary. And when they traded up, it was the best news. I found out I was going to play for the 49ers!”
Now that he’s had two months to work primarily on learning the technique involved in playing right tackle, Davis is confident that he can make an impact in his rookie campaign. Already this offseason, Davis and fellow first-round pick
The two have spent a lot of time together on and off the field as well. Their lockers are even side-by-side. So far, the bond between the two has only grown as they learn blocking techniques from offensive line coach Mike Solari and his assistant Ray Brown.
In addition to mixing with his rookie teammates, Davis has enjoyed his bond with his fellow offensive linemen.
Davis has enjoyed playing alongside third-year guard
Along with Rachal, Davis has fit right in with the offensive line group, a cast of unique characters in their own right.
“Our O-line group is a cool group of guys,” Davis noted.
With Davis in the fold, the group just became that much more entertaining.