Steelers rookie Davis tested by up-and-down season
After the majority of his teammates left the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex fields following a midweek practice late last month, rookie defensive back Sean Davis remained.
But Davis and his position coach, Carnell Lake, were working on a skill you normally wouldn't expect to see from a safety/cornerback mentor and a much younger safety/cornerback.
“We were working on pass-rushing moves,” Davis said while shaking his head and laughing. “I need to work on my blitzing. I don't want to miss any easy (sacks) like I have.”
A defensive back spending time soaking up techniques for swim moves and head-fake rushes like what an outside linebacker would do? Fitting for Davis during a rookie season that has been anything but normal.
“I didn't think it was going to go like this, man,” the Steelers second-round pick said of his NFL baptism. “It's been a crazy ride. We still got a lot of ball to play. But I'm happy. I have been working hard, and it's paying off.”
A sampling of the ups, downs and wackiness of Davis' rookie season:
• He's started two games at (slot) cornerback and at two strong safety.
• He twice has played zero snaps on defense and twice played every snap.
• He made arguably the most crucial mistake in the Steelers' most recent loss (a facemark penalty with 23 seconds left in a two-point game put Dallas into field-goal range). He made arguably the most critical defensive play in the Steelers' most recent win (an open-field tackle on Ryan Tolzien at the goal line on a third down against the Colts).
“I feel like I have had a crazy rookie year so far,” Davis said. “Lots of highs and lows.
“But I'm an optimistic guy. I'm always smiling. So I am always looking at the bright side and always seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. I know it's a long season. I know what I am capable of doing, and I'm a hard worker. And it's been paying off.”
Davis has had to work harder than most rookies because he had to learn two positions (three, if you count his role in the dime). When at safety, he also has been relied upon to pass along calls to the defense (albeit in a secondary role).
“That's kind of been a growing process here for us over these last few weeks,” veteran starting free safety Mike Mitchell said. “But he's done a good job of it. I think he's been good. I've been telling him I'm proud of him these last couple weeks because once we simplified it down for him and had him more at safety, he's been able to do a lot better.”
“I have to be on my ‘A' game,” Davis said of his communication skills. “If I set somebody up wrong, that can screw the whole defense up.”
When it comes to the position switches, at least Davis was accustomed to that after bouncing around the secondary over four seasons at Maryland.
But switching positions over the course of an offseason as an upperclassman captain in college is a whole different ballgame from switching positions a few weeks in the middle of a rookie professional season over.
“That's been part of his ups and downs,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “You're playing nickel, you're playing well. You go to safety, you might not play as well. You play safety well, and then you go back and you're not playing nickel as well.
“So he's weathered storms and shown a lot of mental toughness. … Since he's got here in May, that's what it's been like, just trying to learn, working through the concepts. And I think now at this point of the season he's gotten it pretty much down pat whether it is safety or nickel, and he's been making plays for us as a safety and playing really well as a starter.”
Davis was the lone Steelers defender to play all 63 snaps in the Thanksgiving game at Indianapolis last week, and he was the lone Steelers defensive back never to leave the field four days earlier in Cleveland.
The Steelers allowed a total of 16 points in those games.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked how Davis has adjusted during what has been an eventful rookie season.
“We think he has at times. But there are times he hasn't,” Butler said. “There are times he has made some mistakes, and we've got to correct those mistakes and move on with him. Mentally, he's doing better.
“We've got to keep working to get him better, and I think eventually he will.”