Lost in the shuffle on defense of how great the defensive line is, how much of a question mark the secondary is, how the safeties will be used and how many sacks the outside linebackers will generate is an issue that has plagued them for a few years now, how will their inside linebackers do in coverage versus running backs, tight ends and inside receivers is a very important issue. That issue is where the leadership on such a young team is coming from, and is it strong leadership? Demario Davis will be a big part of answering both of the aforementioned questions.
Davis, the 3rd year inside linebacker from Arkansas State, had a decent year in his 1st year as a starter in 2013. Demario had 106 tackles, a sack and an interception. He played slower than he was due to having to think before he acted and was caught out of position more than a few times. Davis did have a nose for the ball and played downhill against the run very well as well as being a very capable blitzer when called upon.
This year, at least in OTAs and training camp so far, Davis has been much better in coverage against the Jets trio of tight ends Amaro, Cumberland and Sudfeld as well as using his anticipation skills yesterday intercepting a wide receiver screen by Geno Smith and returning it for a touchdown. If these improvements carry over into the season it will shore up a weakness of the club and allow Rex Ryan to be more aggressive in his blitzing of his corners and safeties because he has another option in Davis to cover tight ends and running backs.
As a leader Davis is trying to live up to the lofty expectations that Rex Ryan laid on his shoulders when Ryan compared Davis’ leadership ability to that of Ray Lewis. Davis called out Calvin Pace, a respected veteran, for saying that the Jets have the best defense in the league and questioned the defense’s work ethic in general, which is a bold move for a young player. Here is a quote from Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com’s July 29th blog:
He said they have the potential to be the best defensive team, but there was a qualifier.
“… What it seems like is that, it seems like too many people are saying we can be the best defense or we are the best defense, but the work has to show it,” he said. “You know, as far as me seeing it, have we been putting in the work to be the best defense? I would say no. In the first couple weeks, we’ve got to work a lot harder. Guys have to put more individual time in, you’ve got to watch a lot more film, you’ve got to stay on the field a lot longer, you’ve got to come out a lot earlier.
“It’s not just what is mandatory,” Davis continued. “If you want to be the best you’ve got to do more. Being the best doesn’t just happen. So I’ve seen a lot of people saying that. I’ve said it myself, but personally, I don’t feel like we’re putting in the work right now to be the best. We have a long way to go and right now we’re not on pace to be the best. We’ve got to start fast this year. We can’t afford to try to catch fire late in the season. We’ve got to start fast.”
Those are strong words but did they fall on deaf ears? Apparently not because yesterday’s practice was a dominant practice for the defense and it was led by Davis. Following Davis’ words and Rex Ryan’s plea for turnovers the day before, the Jets had five interceptions including two taken back for touchdowns, one by Davis himself. Not only did Davis talk the talk and walk the walk but even more importantly his teammates took his words to heart and followed him. That’s leadership. On a team with a quiet stars in Muhammad Wilkerson and David Harris, players not yet ready to lead such as Richardson, and veteran leadership that is aging (Pace and Landry) there is a need for long-term leadership and that is what Davis supplies.
The play of Demario Davis is huge for the Jets this year both on the field and off. The better he plays, the more cache he will have in the locker room and that will lead to more players following his lead. His play on the field gives the team another boost of speed and an added dimension of coverage from the linebacker position. We are watching the ascent of the player who will become the heart of the Jets defense. He won’t get the headlines or the endorsements but he will hold it all together for the Green and White hopefully for years to come.