Chris Davis is not delusional. The third-year wide receiver knows that time is ticking on his Tennessee Titans career.
To his credit, Davis is doing something about it.
During the team’s May and June organized team activities, Davis has not only caught the eye of media onlookers as much improved, but more importantly, the eyes of the coaching staff he needs to impress in order to hold on to his roster spot.
“That never goes away,” Davis said of his concern to retain a spot on the 53-man roster, “because if you’re not the one or the two, you’re always worried about your roster spot. This is a real big season for me.”
When Justin McCareins and Brandon Jones departed via free agency, Davis didn’t have any time to be optimistic. The team added more than it lost.
It’s no secret that the Titans have made a conscious effort to upgrade their wide receiver corps this off-season, having lured Nate Washington away from the Pittsburgh Steelers and selecting Rutgers’ Kenny Britt with their first-round pick. Sixth-rounder Dominque Edison has turned a few heads as well with his upside.
Slips and slide
Davis was active on game day for most of his rookie season because he was the Titans primary punt returner in 2007. Despite five fumbles as a return man, the Titans had few other options with Adam “Pacman” Jones suspended for the season, and Davis averaged 9.5 yards per return on 31 chances.
He also managed to catch five passes in a backup role while playing in a total of 12 games.
But in 2008, the whispers began as to whether the former fourth-round pick out of Florida State would make the roster or not.
Davis had a decent training camp and preseason — keeping his roster spot. But by midseason he had fallen into the doghouse, apparently in part because of missed assignments.
He collected only a pair of receptions all season and was deactivated for 10 consecutive weeks, which slid him down toward the bottom of the team’s depth chart in the process.
Titans’ offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger offered a frank and honest assessment of Davis last year — and also the difference he has seen in him so far this year.
“I think Chris knows what he’s supposed to do now. And I think Chris is working at it,” Heimerdinger said. “I’m not sure Chris worked at it last year. I think he just kind of took it and said, ‘OK, I’m not in the top three.’
“And I don’t think Chris ever worked at it at the beginning. I think he’s working at it better with [Steve] Watterson. I think he’s working at it better out here [on the practice field]. If he makes a mistake, he understands what we’re trying to do.”
The coach said that overall, he thinks Davis is making some plays and doing some good things. But what’s noticeable is the effort, he says.
“But I think he’s working at it now. I really don’t think he worked at it before,” Heimerdinger said.
Up for the challenge
Davis, along with fellow third-year man Paul Williams, will both be on the bubble during this training camp and have the preseason to show what they can do in a make-or-break situation.
Thus far, Davis has responded to the challenge, doing a much better job of running his routes and catching the football. So well, in fact, that last week when Justin Gage was held out with a leg injury during on OTA practice, it was Davis running with the first team alongside Washington, rather than Britt or second-year man Lavelle Hawkins.
“Chris is doing the things you’d like to see in OTAs. He’s making a play every day,” Heimerdinger said.
So far, Davis has responded to the challenge set for by the Titans in their quest to improve the overall receiving corps, and appears to be doing his best work yet as a pro.
“I never back down from any challenge. It’s a game, but at the same time, I love competition, and this is nothing but competition,” Davis said. “I knew coming in even before the draft that I was going to have to step it up and really show these coaches that I can play, if you want to get in the game. [Some are] OK with just being on the team, but you want to contribute and do your part.”
Of course, OTA work is markedly different from training camp and preseason games. Last year during OTAs, Biren Ealy and Mike Williams appeared to be on their way to success, but by the time the season began, neither was on the Titans’ 53-man roster.
“There’s always a difference when we put the pads on and they know they can get hit and know they can get jammed, and we’ll just carry it over. Right now, he’s just done tremendously better than he did last year in OTAs,” Heimerdinger said.
For Davis, he says his confidence is increasing with each play he makes and with the improvement he has shown.
“All I can do is do my job in my route running and if he throws me the ball, go up and catch it,” Davis said, almost making it sound so simple.
“It builds it up all day. After every day, if you make a great play or run a great route, it just builds your confidence,” he said. “It’s really a mind thing.”
Still, the 5-10, 181-pounder can’t build all of strength with his head. He credits his off-season workouts and staying in shape as well.
“A lot of that has something to do with it,” he said, before adding “…And it’s just confidence.”
It’s a confidence that has even caught the attention of head coach Jeff Fisher.
“He knows every position. He knows the concepts. He's working hard ...and [he’s] had a good off-season,” Fisher said.