Rookie Davis rises to leader of Lions' defensive pack

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Jarrad Davis made his fair of mistakes in his professional debut. The Detroit Lions rookie linebacker missed two tackles, had some lapses in coverage and was flagged for a pair of penalties. Still, the team’s coaching staff was ecstatic with the overall performance.

“I thought it was outstanding for a young guy,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.

The mistakes, well, those are going to happen. A rookie, starting his first game at a demanding position, there was always going to be stuff to work on. What the Lions liked was the tone Davis set.

“(He) really flew around,” Austin said. “Physical. He makes a difference in our defense, in terms of our temperament and how we go. And that’s something that your middle linebacker should do, because he’s really, at the end of the day, he’s the quarterback of your defense.”

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And that’s the other part of it. Davis was tasked with wearing the headset, taking the calls from the sideline and relying them, without hesitation, to his teammates.

He’s been working in that role since he arrived, a first-round pick out the University of Florida, but Sunday, against Arizona, was the first real test. He passed it with flying colors.

“He’s been handling things well, in terms of calling out the defense and getting the defense set and all those kinds of things, which is not easy,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We have a pretty multiple defense, and for him to be able to manage it the way he does, I think tells you something about his work ethic.”

Austin said it’s that work ethic that has helped Davis quickly gain the respect of the team’s veterans.

“He’s a very mature young man, very serious about his work,” Austin said. “He’s really first one in, last one out type of guy. I think our veterans respect that type of work ethic, and they gravitate to a guy like that.”

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As for Davis’ tone-setting physicality, it’s something the Lions lacked from the linebacking corps last year. It played a significant role in limiting the Cardinals to 45 yards rushing, one of the NFL’s lowest totals in Week 1.

It also cost Davis a portion of his first paycheck. He was fined for slamming Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham to the ground after a reception late in the fourth quarter. Additionally, the linebacker was also assessed a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness on the play.

The penalty came after one of Davis’ team-leading nine tackles. He also recovered a key fumble, forced by defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, that set up Detroit’s second touchdown and kick-started the team’s second-half rally.

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The Lions are banking heavily on Davis, that his work ethic and physical skills will help him develop into one of the premier players at his position. Up to this point, he’s been everything the Lions had hoped for when they drafted him.

“Very few people that have been in this league any length of time would anticipate that a rookie can come in and play a position that’s the quarterback on defense and function as well as he’s functioned,” Caldwell said. “He’s functioned extremely well, but a lot of that has to do with how he works. I mean he’s one of those guys that’s just a tireless worker, does a tremendous job in terms of his preparation, and he’s young as well. I just anticipate he’ll continue to make strides.”

Twitter: @justin_rogers