Although he didn’t have gaudy stats, Panthers rookie Linebacker Thomas Davis was an integral cog in Carolina’s dominance over the Falcons on Sunday.
Davis, who started at safety in the season opener against the Saints, benched himself midway through the game in favor of Marlon McCree after admitting he was over-matched.
This week, he was a difference-maker.
"It was his first NFL game, and I think there are a lot of wide eyes the first time you ever trot out there," Panthers head coach John Fox said at his Monday press conference. "But you'd have to ask him about his confidence. He seems to be very confident to me now."
A few months later and a new position, Davis finally showed why he was worthy of the Panthers’ first round pick in 2005.
"First of all, Thomas Davis has a lot of pride," said Fox of his top rookie. "When you come in somewhere as a first-round pick, there are a lot of expectations, both by the player and the organization. In my opinion, he has done an outstanding job all the way up until now. Yesterday, he got a bigger package and as the game played out and was utilized more maybe than he has up until now. He's tremendous. He's a very physical player with great speed. We're starting to utilize him more and more as we move forward."
Davis played primarily at linebacker, blitzing Falcons QB Michael Vick on several occasions and having containment duties on others. Davis’ pressure helped the Panther defense rack up 5 sacks and two interceptions as they harassed Vick all day long.
Perhaps we could have seen more of this during the season, had the Panthers coaching staff not flip-flopped Davis from Safety to linebacker back to safety then back to linebacker during the course of four months.
Davis started training camp as a safety, but was moved to linebacker "full time" after LB Brandon Short injured his foot early in camp. However, Starting FS Colin Branch tore-up his knee early in the preseason, and Davis was moved to strong safety after the regular strong safety, Mike Minter, was moved over to free safety to compensate for the loss of Branch. After Davis played so poorly at safety in the opener, the staff thought it best to use him as a situational pass-rushing linebacker until he regained his confidence and became acclimated to the speed of the NFL game.
Of course, Fox doesn’t think Davis’ growth was "stunted" with all the moving around.
"Had Collin Branch remained healthy, he might have stayed at linebacker" Fox said. "But, unfortunately, that's not what happened. We had to make an adjustment. This game's about adjustments. So in hindsight, I can't really answer that."
And apparently, Fox can’t answer for sure where Davis will ultimately end up, either.
"He's good at both (safety and linebacker). Where he's going to best fit to help this football team win is where he's going to be."
That’d be at linebacker, coach. Let’s not have this take 12 weeks to figure out like the other Davis "experiment" on offense.