It comes as no surprise that first-round pick Jamin Davis has looked impressive so far during the Washington Football Team's OTAs. It is also inevitable that a rookie like Davis, despite how talented he is, will make mistakes.
Davis, who only started 11 games at Kentucky, has size, athleticism and excellent instincts against the run and pass, said linebackers coach Steve Russ. The goal is for him to use all those tools at the much faster pace that the NFL demands, but Russ knows it will take some time for that to happen, as is expected of players in their first season.
But mistakes are fertilizer, Russ said, and as Davis continues to get more acclimated to the professional game, he wants to help Davis use those mistakes to grow as a player.
"He knows he's in an environment where he doesn't have to play with fear," Russ said. "He knows it's a lot easier to fix something on where to go or the preciseness of it than to speed a player up. So hey, go make those mistakes full speed. Great, we'll learn from them."
Davis has plenty of intangibles that stand out on the the field, but his approach to practice and film study has been just as impressive to Russ. He's not wide-eyed, but he also does not have an entitled attitude. He's going to work and soak up all the information that his coaches give him.
A prime example of that can be seen in how Davis approaches playing middle linebacker. The position requires him to know the calls like a second language and reiterate them to the rest of the defense. Davis is obviously not going to get them all right on the first attempt, so he needs as much experience as possible in that area so he can operate at a smoother pace. It is a fact that Russ said Davis takes seriously.
"He wants to do well," Russ said. "He knows that when things...aren't the way he wants them to be, he's going to fix them, and he's going to work on it."
A lot of younger players tend to get down on themselves when they initially struggle with the defensive calls. Davis is not one of them; instead, he calmly says, "Okay, I can fix that," and goes back to work.
The hope is that Davis' confidence will continue to increase as he learns from his mistakes, and that will allow him to play at the tempo Russ demands from his linebackers. He wants Davis to know without a doubt what his keys are, where he is going on the field and how he fits with the rest of the defense. It requires understanding concepts that Davis did not see in college, but that is an area that Russ has seen him work hard to perfect.
The good news is that there is plenty of time for Davis to learn. Washington has two more practices before it takes a break heading into training camp, and Russ believes the time off could offer the biggest opportunity for growth.
"Sometimes what I've found is that...young players can take a step back, reassess everything and they even grow in the offseason, even though they haven't had any reps," Russ said. "Because now that initial part's over, they take it, they digest it and now they're ready to go for that next part and hit the ground running. Those [moments] are always fun to see your players make those kinds of jumps."
It is also a positive that Davis is not starting from scratch, even though he only had a handful starts at Kentucky. Russ saw him get consistently better throughout the 2020 season, which is what he wants from someone who has seen limited action on the field. What's more, the Wildcats also ran similar schemes to what Davis will be part of in the NFL, and that experience has already translated in practice.
And Russ already has an idea of how hard Davis works. He coached with Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White at Wake Forest, so he trusts White to be honest about Davis' skillset. The result was a glowing evaluation.
"He could not say enough great things about him as far as how he studied and how he prepared to play the game of football, how he practiced, how he approached meetings, how he studied by himself [and] with other people," Russ said.
Washington wants Davis to become the defensive mainstay that it drafted him to become, and by all accounts, he is approaching that challenge the right way. There may be some missteps along the way, but Russ wants them to be stepping stones, rather than deterrents for him. The combination of his mindset and physical tools results in a player Russ sees as well-prepared for his rookie season.
"You can see a guy that can really develop to be a guy that could really lead men in this league," Russ said. "That's what you're looking for, obviously, from your best players. You want your best players to be your best leaders, especially when you're talking about linebackers who have to quarterback the defense. That's what I really, really enjoy watching with him."