Allen Park – Jarrad Davis might be a rookie, but it was the Detroit Lions linebacker delivering a welcome-to-the-NFL hit during Friday’s training camp practice.
It was during a seven-on-seven drill, not typically the most-physical portion of practice, when veteran receiver Marvin Jones ventured across the middle of the field. The first thing to hit Jones in the chest was Matthew Stafford’s pass; the second, Davis’ shoulder.
“When you can come out and actually put hands on somebody and hit somebody, it’s awesome,” Davis said. “It’s practice – if I don’t (hit hard) in practice, I’m not going to do it in the game, so I have to put myself in the best position to make plays.”
The fans in attendance roared with approval as Jones stumbled back two or three steps. The cheer reached another octave when those in stands realized the receiver was able to maintain his balance and hold on to the ball.
And while there was no sign of Davis taking it easy, the rookie linebacker wants everyone to know, if he delivered the blow the way he would have in a game, it wasn’t going to end in a completion.
“If I really came with what I needed to come with, it would have been a whole different story,” Davis said. “I have to take care of my guys, but at the end of the day, you have to find that perfect mix.”
Even with the foot not fully on the gas, it was the type of hit that might spark a camp fight on another team. A veteran could take exception to a rookie’s overt physically, but Jones took it in stride, literally and figuratively.
In fact, it raised the level of competition for the rest of practice. Jones even looked to return the favor later in the session.
“It’s seven-on-seven, so you’re not thinking someone is going to come like that, but you’ve always got to say on guard,” Jones said. “It’s cool. I tried to search him out in the run period. I normally block DBs, but I tried to look him up as much as I could, to give him a little pop.”
Not even coach Jim Caldwell, who preaches caution with contact in practice, regardless of whether the players are in full pads, found fault with the hard-hitting intensity.
“Yeah, I think that’s kind of a normal trait of most linebackers and anybody on defense, period,” Caldwell said. “Those are guys that are going to be very, very active in that regard.”
After practice, as Davis talked to the media, Jones snuck up behind the rookie and rubbed his head, like an older brother messing with his younger sibling. Everyone was smiling and laughing, there were clearly no hard feelings.
And while it was just one play, in one practice, this is the type of edge the Lions are looking for from their linebackers. The group struggled to intimidate last season, when opposing quarterbacks regularly exploited the center of the field.
Detroit has had notable struggles covering tight ends for two seasons, allowing an average of 84 receptions for 849 yards and 11 touchdowns to the position during the stretch.
Davis, the team’s first-round pick out of Florida, was brought in to inject some speed and ferocity to the second level. According to fellow linebacker Tahir Whitehead, that’s what the unit wants to be known for this season.
“(We want to be) physical, hit you in the mouth, play the run, and if you come across the field, we’re going to hit you,” Whitehead said.
Davis echoed his veteran mentor.
“We’re a group of guys that’s going to hold down the middle of the defense and make sure we push everybody else around,” he said.
On Friday, Jones got a taste of what can happen if you try to come across the middle against this group. It’s different when it’s your teammates. You still have to ease up, even if it’s just a little. Soon, the Lions linebackers will look to prove they’re no longer pushovers. If you want to test them, they’re ready to make you pay.