Thursday's NFL: Ex-Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis considered 'walking away' from game

Associated Press

Florham Park, N.J. — Jarrad Davis was in a tough spot on the field — and a dark place in his head.

The once-promising linebacker was no longer a starter for the Detroit Lions, struggling to find a role and desperately trying to fend off the negative thoughts that were chipping away at his confidence and love for football.

“I contemplated walking away,” Davis acknowledged after his first practice with the New York Jets. “I really did, man. But at the end of the day, like, I wouldn’t have felt right doing something else, you know?”

Linebacker Jarrad Davis spent his first four seasons with the Lions before signing with the Jets.

That’s because the 26-year-old Davis knows he still has plenty of plays left in him. A first-round pick of the Lions in 2017, Davis’ first two NFL seasons were promising as he registered at least 90 tackles in each and had a career-high six sacks in his second year.

But under coach Matt Patricia, Davis’ snaps began to dwindle. He struggled at times in coverage and his production fell off.

“The battle’s up here,” Davis said, pointing to his head. “And I was losing that battle every single day.”

Davis started just four games last season and hardly resembled the playmaking stud who was the 21st overall pick out of Florida.

“One thing that I was doing, and this is on me, I was making the game everything,” Davis said. “I was making myself the game. And when I was doing that, it just didn’t feel right. This is such a competitive sport at this level and you have to put your all into it. But there has to be balance. I had a personal life, but it wasn’t as important. I didn’t really care. If my personal life got in the way of football, it couldn’t exist.

“Living like that, I burned myself out. I had to do some things, take care of myself personally, mentally, emotionally — get back right and revitalize.”

He turned to help from Dr. Rick Perea, a Denver-based expert in performance psychology who Davis met during the draft process. Perea started by having him “change the lens” through which he viewed all aspects of his life.

“I revalued things,” Davis said. “Football was the top of the top. Nothing could knock it down. Nothing could knock down the foundation that football was standing on. But I really came in and personally just cleared it, man, and just took it off the radar, like, took it off my list.

“And it’s just something I do now. It’s not who I am anymore.”

Davis acknowledged that realization felt weird at first because he insists he never truly lost his love of football, a game he has been playing since he was 6 as a kid on the pickup fields in Kingsland, Georgia.

“Doing that, it fell backwards, everything that I was about,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s so freeing to be out here now. Like, if I mess up in practice, I mess up in practice. You know what I’m saying? I can bounce back from that and come back and make a better play.”

Mental health has increasingly become a focus in sports, with U.S. gymnast Simone Biles the most recent example after the Olympic champion removed herself from the team final at the Tokyo Games earlier this week following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready.

Davis could certainly relate to the thoughts of trying to balance the pressure to perform with every move being dissected — mostly by people who don’t know them or understand what they deal with on a daily basis.

“It’s like if she takes one misstep, everything is wrong,” he said. “Like, it’s either good or bad and it’s like there’s no in between for her. And I feel like it’s either do or die. And it sucks when you get in those situations as a person, you know what I mean? Not as a competitor, but as a person. When you feel like you make the wrong move, it’s like ‘I’m terrible’ and when you feel like that every day, you almost get antsy to take a misstep. So now you can’t even walk as yourself confidently anymore.”

That’s something Davis believes he can do again with the Jets, with whom he signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal in March.

Davis is looking forward to playing in coach Robert Saleh’s system, and the feeling is mutual. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich scouted Davis while he was coaching in Atlanta and hoped to someday have him on his team.

“Absolutely loved the makeup of the guy, and loved the player,” Ulbrich said. “Always was super hungry to get him within this system, put him on repeat, let him just master some techniques. Let his speed and his run and hit just go. And, that’s all starting to show up.”

And after all the doubts and soul searching, Davis is comfortable and feeling good about himself again. On and off the field.

“I’m excited every day, man,” Davis said. “I wake up every day and just thank God for being able to come back out here.”

NFLPA prez rips vaccine wristbands

Browns center and NFLPA president JC Tretter feels the NFL is trying to shame players by urging teams to require vaccinated and unvaccinated players to wear different colored wristbands.

He called the idea “nonsensical.”

Tretter, who took office last year as the COVID-19 pandemic was in its early stages, said he’s thankful the Browns didn’t adopt the wristband policy and he blasted the league for some other measures.

Tretter said it’s easy to identify who isn’t vaccinated because those choosing not to get the shots are required masks and follow other protocols.

“They say they need a differentiator between unvaccinated and vaccinated players, we already have a differentiator,” Tretter said. “The unvaccinated players need to wear masks. No other sports leagues use any sort of scarlet marking or helmet decal or wristband because they know it’s not necessary and the teams know who’s vaccinated and not vaccinated.”

Tretter feels the league wanted to guilt players into getting the vaccine.

“So what it really comes down to is the NFL wanted to put a policy in place to try to shame unvaccinated players publicly about their status and make that known to everybody on the field, and that shouldn’t be the case because it’s unnecessary,” he said. “We all know who’s vaccinated, who’s not and it doesn’t need to be a scarlet marking on peoples’ helmets or wrists.”

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said the team decided against the wristbands, which are being worn at some other training camps.

“We’re not dividing the team over this issue,” Stefanski said.

Extra points

After missing the first two practices of training camp, Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson agreed to terms on his four-year rookie contract, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deal.

Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft in April, gets a fully guaranteed deal worth $35.15 million, including a signing bonus of $22.9 million, and has a fifth-year team option.

… The NFL Players Association has expanded its agreement with RealResponse to allow for reporting of all issues, including drug policy infractions and social injustice concerns.

The players’ union previously joined RealResponse to communicate COVID-19 health and safety questions. It updated that arrangement to include anonymously and securely reporting any and all issues regarding player health and safety, misconduct, hazing, harassment, and more.

RealResponse is an anonymous reporting platform for athletic teams, organizations, and over 50,000 athletes. Its partners include USA Gymnastics and more than 100 universities.

… Washington Football president Jason Wright said the organization has significantly trimmed the list of potential team names, with the unveiling expected before the 2022 NFL Draft.

… The Falcons placed defensive end-outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. on the reserve/COVID-19 list.