No. 2 ... Carl Davis walked on the Iowa campus weighing 340 pounds. Strike one.
“I was going through some old pictures on my phone,” Davis said with a laugh. “Man, I had a chubby face and I didn’t have any facial hair at all. Chubby face and I was big. I didn’t notice at the time. I thought I was good until I almost passed out [during conditioning drills].”
And then he dislocated his right knee cap. Twice. Strike two.
The first time was August 2011 and then it happened again late that season. He had surgery after the 2011 Insight Bowl. In 2012, he was tentative. Thus, he wasn’t really much of a contributor to a defensive line that really could have used contributions. Davis called returning from injury “a mental block for me. I was nervous getting around piles and stuff like that. Now, I just play.
“I just had to get over it. I feel like I’ve overcome it. I don’t have any braces any more. I’m just running around now.”
And then there was the gas pedal. Davis found himself being one or two of the last guys finishing conditioning drills. He missed the times he was supposed to hit. That was a problem. Strike three.
“It was me and Anthony Ferguson [a former D-lineman for Iowa],” Davis said. “We both came in overweight. We in there conditioning. There was one point where he basically almost passed out. He stopped running because he couldn’t go anymore. I just kept going. I’m dying, I’m missing times. Coach is on me. Everybody is yelling at me. It’s bad when you’ve got the Clayborns talking to you, saying, ‘C’mon, let’s go.’ I’m like, man, I’ve got to get it together, man. I finally did that.”
I know I’ve used the “I finally did that” as a rhetorical device here in a previous post. It’s just so fitting, it’s just so perfect. It really sets up the final two seasons of Davis’ career.
Last season, the 6-5, 315-pounder went from a player who saw maybe six snaps a game to 40-plus. The gas was in the tank. The battery was charged and the engine was humming (the automobile metaphor carries with Davis being from Detroit).
Every player has obstacles, absolutely. Not every player came in with the degree of curiosity that Davis did. He was a find for the Hawkeyes. This was the era of Mitch King and Matt Kroul, undersized defensive tackles who made themselves into Big Ten defensive lineman of the year and Iowa’s career leader for starts, respectively. Davis was a ready-made big DT, the kind of player who drives nearly every important college football program.
It took some time to build Davis — he readily and enthusiastically heaps credit on strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle — but look at him now, a total home run in every regard.
How important is the DT for Iowa’s defense ... Iowa’s trio of linebackers in 2012 were Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris. That year, Iowa finished seventh in the Big Ten in rush defense, allowing 162.08 yards a game (among the worst seasons in the Ferentz era). Iowa had just 53 tackles for loss. This linebacker group combined for 18 tackles for loss.
Iowa’s D-line didn’t help them out much, if at all.
So, let’s compare those numbers to the 2013 team, which had a D-line that punched in and mattered. Iowa’s rush defense finished fourth in the Big Ten but shaved nearly 40 yards off its per-game average at 128.38. The Hawkeyes had 80 tackles for loss. The linebackers, all of whom are in NFL camps right now, nearly doubled their output here with 35.5 tackles for loss.
“If I don’t do my job and they get to block a linebacker, they can possibly cause a big alley and make a big play,” Davis said.
Remember the Venric Mark play from 2012? The Northwestern running back nearly rushed 99 yards for a TD. Cornerback Micah Hyde tracked him down from behind and kept the run to just — “just” — 72 yards.
“We had a call where we shifted at the last second,” Davis said, shaking his head. “We got the call late. We were all dysfunctional at that point. They ran that play up the middle. Luckily, Micah Hyde was able to chase him down.”
That didn’t happen in 2013.
Delayed the draft ... Davis didn’t put himself up for evaluation with the NFL draft advisory board last January. That’s the NFL consortium of scouts and execs and whatnot who give players draft grades so they can decided if it’s worth it to go pro. You’ll hear more about that next year, when the draft grades are limited to first round, second and maybe third and go back to school, son.
Davis didn’t do it. Head coach Kirk Ferentz thought that was a wise decision.
“If he’s going to go in the first round, it’s a good decision,” Ferentz said. “I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened for Carl. Next year, he’ll have that opportunity if he plays the way we think he can. He’ll have that opportunity, so to me, it was a good move on his part and, again, I think it’d be fun to be a player like that. I never had that opportunity.”
Outlook ... Davis will be drafted and has, potentially, a million-dollar NFL body. He’s put in the work at Iowa. That won’t suddenly fade.
“I think he’s highly motivated for a lot of reasons,” D-line coach Reese Morgan said. “His motivation comes from within. He wants to do well. He wants to do everything right. He’s been extremely coachable and listens really well in the rooms.”
Plus, Davis is having fun. Spend a minute talking to him. Quickly, you get a sense for his love of the game and for — without getting overly dramatic here — life.
“Carl has battled,” Ferentz said. “He has fought through injury and really last year was when it started. Two years ago, he didn’t know his potential. Last year, he started figuring it out and this last spring, he really ... I think he really started enjoying the fact that, you know, ‘Hey, maybe I am pretty good.’ I think he’s starting to get that and not in an ego way or a braggadocious way, but like, ‘Hey, this might be fun if I keep pushing for it.’ I think he worked hard this summer and he has got a great attitude, a smile on his face all the time.”
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