Davis considered “walking away” from football, but the New York Jets’ call has afforded him a chance to reclaim the narrative on his career.
No matter their genre, fictional characters have embarked on new quests by hiring an expert in the field in question to complete their goals. Peter LaFleur brought in dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan to save Average Joe’s Gym. Norman Dale enlisted the services of former Hickory Husker Wilbur “Shooter” Flatch to help capture Indiana high school basketball glory.
In the real world, linebacker Jarrad Davis is in a similar position as he arrives in Florham Park for his first New York Jets training camp. Entering his fifth season out of Florida, Davis is a noted practitioner of 4-3 defense, which is set to make its return to New York under new head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
The 4-3 has played host to Davis’ finest gridiron hours: his work under Geoff Collins and Randy Shannon’s system at the University of Florida made him a first-round pick of Detroit Lions (21st overall) in 2017. He was a strong fit for a similar system overseen by Teryl Austin, earning all-rookie team honors.
Davis returned to the 4-3 on Wednesday when he partook in the opening camp practice on One Jets Drive. He offered a positive review of what Saleh and Ulbrich had to offer in his first post-practice comments.
“The defense is so layered. On the front end, we have to cause havoc, stress quarterbacks out, get them off the spot,” the new front seven member said of the defense, per video from the Jets. “Linebackers, we need to help protect the middle of the field. We got to make sure our reads are sharp, our keys are where they need to be, eyes are where they need to be on our keys. We just got to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can do to take care of our jobs.”
“This defense, as with almost any other defense in the league, it’s about all 11 doing their job. If there’s somebody out of position, then it’s going to make somebody in the backend look bad, someone who may have done everything perfectly, because the timing isn’t there. It’s all about everybody just doing their job, just simply put.”
Though Austin was dismissed through the controversial firing of head coach Jim Caldwell, Davis enjoyed a productive sophomore season under Paul Pasqualoni (100 tackles, 10 for a loss, 6 sacks), even earning on-field playcalling duties. But Davis, like many, fell victim to the Matt Patricia cesspool in the Motor City. Injuries ate away at his 2019 season and he spent most of last season in a rotational role, playing a career-low 330 snaps over 14 games. Detroit declined to pick up his fifth-year option as they went back to the drawing board.
Faced with an uncertain football future, Davis entered a period of “soul searching”. What made his Detroit demotion so painful, he said, was the fact that he was “making the game everything”.
“I was making myself the game. And when I was doing that, it just, it just didn’t feel right,” he said. “This is such a competitive sport at this level. You have to put your everything, 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 burnt myself out.”
As a result, Davis admitted that he seriously contemplated “walking away” from football. Instead, he began a new offseason endeavor.
“Living like that, I would burn myself out,” Davis said of his relative all-or-nothing approach. “I had to go do some things to take care of myself personally, mentally, and emotionally and get back right.”
To that end, Davis met with a Super Bowl champion: Denver-based sports psychologist Dr. Rick Perea, Ph.D.
Described as “one of the nation’s most energetic and dynamic practitioners in Performance Psychology“, Dr. Perea was on the Denver Broncos’ staff during their run to Super Bowl 50 in the 2015-16 season. His services have also been employed by the Nuggets and Rockies, as well as several other NFL squads.
Davis previously worked with Dr. Perea during the 2017 draft process. This time around, the linebacker learned how to “revalue” things moving forward.
“Football was top of the top (of my values), nothing could knock it down. Nothing could knock down the foundation that football was standing on,” David recalled. “But we personally just cleared it. We just took it off the radar, like took it off my list. It’s just something I do now. It’s not who I am anymore.”
Don’t let the wording fool you: Davis believes that his revaluing process will make him a better player on the field. For example, a mistake that would haunt him for the rest of practice is forgotten by the next down.
“If I mess up in practice, I mess up in practice. I can bounce back from that and come back and make a better play the next play now,” he said. “Before, I messed up, now I think about that all practice. I can’t even focus on anything else. I can’t even see the fullback taking me to the gap I need to go to anymore because I’m thinking about this play that happened 20 minutes ago.”
Jarrad Davis HIT STICK 💥
— ESPN (@espn) September 20, 2020
The Jets’ call meant more for Davis under a new focus. New York inked him to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million in March, reuniting him with fellow former Gator Marcus Maye. The safety was chosen 18 picks after Davis in the 2017 draft, just three months after they capped off their Gainesville careers with a 30-3 over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
An opportunity to return to a familiar scheme drew Davis to the metropolitan area.
“To get that phone call early in free agency from the Jets, it was a blessing to know that I had such an opportunity as this to come in and really get back to work,” Davis said. “I’m coming back to the scheme, the familiarity. We did stuff similar to this in college and being able to play fast and just be myself out there just excited me.”
Davis is one of many athletes who have shared their struggles with mental health in recent times. His discourse coincided with decorated American gymnast Simone Biles’ highly publicized withdrawal from several events at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo due to such concerns.
Though Davis admitted he was not up to speed to comment on Biles’ situation, he hopes that his own situation will remove stigmas and inspire his teammates to ask for help if they need it.
“Why do we have to think getting help and not being okay, and saying that you’re not okay is a cool thing to do before you can actually say it?” Davis rhetorically asked. “If you’re not okay, you’re not okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. I guess it’s a very simple question, but it’s a powerful one.”
“People do need to understand that. When we do, we’ll be able to build and grow in life.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags