If you’re looking for a 2013 breakout candidate on the defensive side of the ball, look no further than the New York Jets’ Demario Davis. With the recent release of Bart Scott, things are falling into place for the Jets’ 2012 third round pick as Davis is situated to assuming the starting inside linebacker role next to David Harris in 2013.
After starting a handful of games for Scott in 2012 where he played close to every one of the team’s snaps, Davis was limited to sub-package snaps for the rest of the season. According to Davis, his rookie season wasn’t what he’d hoped for, which he attributes to learning the NFL game and getting up to speed. With a learning season behind him, Davis’ natural talent is set to take over in 2013.
That natural talent combined with a starting opportunity and increased snaps puts Davis in a position to excel. Given his explosiveness, leadership qualities and athleticism, he’s a prime candidate to be an every down linebacker for the Jets for the foreseeable future.
We recently spent some time with Demario talking about his rookie season, his natural abilities, the opportunity as a starter in 2013, as well as the role he’s expected to play replacing Bart Scott next season. You can get the full audio of our interview here.
Steve Wyremski (SW): How’s everything going? How’s the off-season treating you?
Demario Davis (DD): It’s cool, man. I’ve had the chance to go down south and visit with family and stuff. Now I’m back up in Jersey and I’ve started my individual training. It’s kind of intense, but I’m getting adjusted back to it.
SW: I want to talk a little about your rookie season. You started three games from week seven to ten and it looked like you may be assuming a starting role with Bart Scott out. During that time, you also tallied with 15 of your 27 tackles on the year. Soon after though, your snaps were cut back when Bart returned. Overall, how would you evaluate your rookie year performance?
DD: I’m a very harsh critic of myself. It definitely didn’t turn out as good as it could have, in my opinion. There were a lot of pluses and a lot of things I can build off of going into next season, [though]. I’m definitely happy about the things I learned about the game [and am] anxious to get back and utilize some of those things I learned and put those things into action. It could have gone a lot better from my point of view, [though]. I think it was a good season, but not the season I wanted it to be.
SW: So what do you think specifically? You played well against the Patriots and Dolphins and played close to every snap. However, in week ten against the Seahawks, you played fewer snaps and seemed to struggle in coverage. Is coverage the thing? Multiple things?
DD: I’m looking to improve on all areas. From a mental standpoint, just lowering the number of mental mistakes. I definitely want to increase my coverage skills, which I know I can perform a lot better. I [also] want to increase my pass rushing abilities. I know I can do those things, but I want to be able to show them on a consistent basis.
SW: Does it have anything to do with the fact that at Arkansas State you were given a lot of freedom to make plays and, obviously, in the NFL there’s a lot more focus on technique. Has that contributed here to your transition and learning curve?
DD: No, no, no. I feel like we have a lot of freedom in our defense to go out and make plays. It’s never about the system limiting you in making plays. It’s just about having a certain confidence level on the field. When you’re learning a lot, it tends to cause you to think a lot. An unconscious mind moves a lot faster than a conscious mind. You just need to be able to go out there, relax and play.
In college, I remember it being the same kind of situation. In my first year on the field, I was doing a lot of thinking. I performed [well], but it wasn’t up to the standards I knew I could perform at. You’re learning and applying those things at the same time. With comfort on the field comes relaxation and with relaxation comes your best performance. I’m just looking forward to going out there next year with total confidence when I step on the field.
SW: So do you feel like you’re at the point where you’re not going to be thinking as much after you go through the OTAs and training camp here in 2013 and you can let your natural ability take over?
DD: Yeah. Like I said, last year was a learning year. This year is going to be a playing year. You know the game, now. You know what to expect, so it’s just about stepping on the field and letting your game speak for itself.
SW: Specifically in 2013? With Bart Scott released, you’re set to assume the starting role next to David Harris at weakside ILB. Are you prepared for that?
DD: I mean, you won’t know til you get out there. In my mind, I say I’m prepared. I’m always willing to take on the bigger challenge. That’s something I look forward to going out there. There’s nothing you can say, “Oh yeah, I’m prepared. I’m going to show you.” You have to let your game speak for itself.
SW: What about your specific role? Rex mentioned you’ll be playing the ‘Will’. When I spoke to Bart previously he always talked about how he played the ‘Jack’ role. He was clearing the way for other guys to make a play. Do you have any idea what your specific role will be?
DD: We don’t know all the changes we’ll be making to the defense, but if we’re playing the same defense we were playing last year, it’s just a second inside linebacker. You have two inside linebackers, so it’s like having two ‘Mikes’.’
SW: Yeah. I just thought it was interesting because whenever Rex [Ryan] previously referred to Bart, he always referred to his role as the ‘Jack’. Bart always talked about how he was the trash man and how he was hitting the bubble (hitting the uncovered lineman) and he was taking out guys for others to make plays. It sounds like you’re saying it may be more you and David [Harris] attacking the line together as opposed to a trash man role for you.
DD: Yeah. The inside linebackers almost have mirrored jobs. From Bart’s perspective, yeah sometimes it can seem like you’re the one who’s taking on a lot of the trash. It just depends on which side the play goes. If the play goes left, then David [Harris] is taking on the trash and clearing the way for me as the backside linebacker. If the play goes the other way, I’m taking on the garbage and the trash the same way so he can make the tackle. It depends on how the play goes.
It’s no different than the role I was playing last year unless the scheme changes. With the new [defensive coordinator], I don’t know all the things we’ll be doing different. I played the ‘Will’ position last year. When I was playing against the Patriots and Seahawks as your referred to earlier, the same thing I was doing in that role will be the same thing I’m doing now. It will just be at a higher level and a different number of snaps.
SW: You played a decent amount of snaps in coverage or passing situations in your rookie year. You’re athletic and a fluid guy on the field. You have the ability to cover RBs, TEs, and even WRs. Can you be an every down linebacker in the NFL?
DD: That’s what I like to think of myself as – an every down player and not a subpackage player. It’s all about the team first, forget about yourself, but I think of myself as an every down player being able to go in and stop the run and on third down being able to put pressure on the quarterback or drop back into coverage.
SW: You’re obviously a favorite of Rex Ryan. He gushed about you post-draft in 2012 comparing you to Ray Lewis. Does that put pressure on you to succeed?
DD: Oh no, man. I like Rex. He’s a great coach and we’re forming a pretty good relationship. I understand where he’s coming from when he say’s the things that he [does]. Like, he talked about my leadership potential, so he understands [that] when it’s time for me to lead, [I] step up and into that role. It doesn’t put pressure on me because no one can put more pressure on me than myself.
Like I said, I criticize myself a lot harder than anyone else. In my mind, I’m always chasing after the greatness inside of me. It’s not any pressure that’s coming from my coach that I didn’t already have for myself.
SW: The Jets defense is going to a look a lot different in 2013 with turnover that’s occurred so far and may still be to come on the defense (release of Calvin Pace, Bart Scott out) – any one in particular that you think needs to step up at this point?
DD: Man, I’m never looking outside the box. I’m always looking inside the box to see what I can do better. For me to come in and be a consistent and dependable player, that’s what I’m trying to show this year. That they can count on me every down that they need me on the field. That’s the main thing I’m worried about. I need to step in to the linebacker [spot] and fill that void [left by the released veterans].
SW: When you look at 2013 and having a year under your belt – can 2013 be a breakout season for you?
DD: I think it can be a huge year for me. It just all depends on me and whatever the Lord has in store.
After being drafted in the 2012 draft by the Jets, many expected Davis to contest for the starting inside linebacker spot within a few years. After only a year, it’s already his time. Expect Davis to secure the starting spot and begin to play with an unconscious mindset. You can hear the entire interview with Demario here.