The Redskins Player Spotlight series is presented by Acronis.
When the Washington Redskins released Montae Nicholson on March 23, they were parting ways with last year's starting free safety. But hours earlier, they announced the signing of his potential replacement.
Meet Sean Davis, the 26-year-old Washington, D.C., native who has spent nearly his entire life in the area. The only time he left was during a four-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and even then he'd keep up with his hometown team. Since high school, he has worn No. 21 in honor of former Redskin Sean Taylor.
Now Davis is back in Washington, where he'll suit up for the franchise he grew up rooting for and likely play the same position Taylor thrived at more than a decade earlier.
"I think about it all the time because I drove past FedExField all the time as a kid growing up," Taylor told Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael in late May. "I actually had my first NFL game at FedExField against the Redskins my rookie year. So now to call that home and play in the stadium that I saw when I was at home growing up, it's a very awesome feeling, it's a very humbling feeling, and I'm excited to put on for [Prince George's] County, to put on for my city."
With an almost entirely new coaching staff and dozens of new players, Davis admitted that it's been tough going through the virtual offseason program, which has replaced face-to-face interaction and hands-on instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Davis said the Redskins "are making the best of the situation" and have made progress towards understanding their roles within Jack Del Rio's defense.
Davis specifically highlighted the work of defensive backs coach Chris Harris, assistant defensive backs coach Richard Rodgers and assistant defensive backs/nickel coach Brent Vieselmeyer, all of whom have been instrumental in preparing the secondary for the upcoming campaign.
"They're all doing a great job in the DB room, showing up each and every day with film, cut up, making it competitive for us because at the end of the day that's what it's all about: us getting out there and competing," Davis said. "I'm just trying to pick it up as fast as I can and take mental reps, and it's just a different situation that we're in, but I'm enjoying it and I'm enjoying learning with the guys and learning with the coaches and learning the philosophy of the defense, so it is pretty cool."
As many anticipated when the Redskins signed him March 23, Davis will mainly be the deep safety while three-time Pro Bowler Landon Collins plays closer to the line of scrimmage.
That's where Davis played in 2018, when he started 15 games for the Steelers and led the unit with 79 total tackles. He also broke up seven passes, third-most on the team, and made an interception.
"Sean Davis is a guy that we liked at free safety," head coach Ron Rivera said during a videoconference in early April. "We think he's a guy that's going to come in and compete to be the starter. He's a guy that we think can match very well with the guys that we have in the secondary already, so we feel very strongly about him."
Davis also understands that defenses are evolving and that defensive backs must be able to play multiple positions depending on the alignment. As a rookie, he played nickelback and strong safety in 16 appearances (nine starts). He then started every game at strong safety in 2017, recording a team-high 90 tackles and three interceptions.
Davis only played one game last season because of a shoulder injury, but he's fully healthy now and eager to get back onto the field.
"As long as I'm on the field, I feel like I'm going to make an impact on defense," Davis said. "But just bouncing around, I feel like it's just evolved my game. It let me have a better understanding of the defense and how all the positions work together and how we feed off of each other."
When Davis takes the field, he'll aim to emulate Taylor's playing style -- how he owned the middle of the field, attacked the ball and instilled fear into opposing pass-catchers.
Davis loved everything about Taylor and referred to him as a "beast," a "freak athlete" and a "huge role model." His game film, Davis said, displays exactly how the free safety position should be played.
Davis knows he cannot continue Taylor's legacy, but he'll attempt to honor him in any way possible. He'll even don No. 36, the same number Taylor wore during his first season in the nation's capital.
"I just try to do what I'm supposed to do, but also unleash the inner beast in me and play like Sean Taylor," Davis said. "That's my goal every week I'm out there: play like Sean."