Davis a hit in Carolina’s new scheme
By Mike Cranston
Associated PressCHARLOTTE ó When the Carolina Panthers took Thomas Davis with the 14th pick in the 2005 draft, coach John Fox raved he could be a “Derrick Brooks-type linebacker.”
Four years later, Davis for the first time is playing in the same Tampa-2 system that Brooks thrived in with Tampa Bay. And in Week 1 he put up Brooks-like numbers.
“Pretty much my best game as a pro,” Davis said Thursday.
The stats crew credited the weakside linebacker with 16 tackles against Philadelphia. After the coaches graded the tape, the total swelled to 18, with 13 solo tackles.
While the performance was overshadowed by Jake Delhomme’s five turnovers in the 38-10 loss, it wasn’t forgotten in the Carolina locker room.
“The little birdies are saying that’s the position to have in this defense,” strongside linebacker Na’il Diggs said.
It sure seems that way. When Davis missed most of the preseason with a sprained knee ligament, backup James Anderson amassed 16 tackles over two games.
“I think the biggest thing, it’s set up for the (weakside) linebacker,” Davis said. “It puts me in position to make plays and I was able to go out, run around, feel free and make plays.”
The Panthers changed defenses when coordinator Mike Trgovac left after last season and was replaced by Ron Meeks. He had worked in Indianapolis under Tony Dungy, author of the Tampa-2.
It’s a simple, zone-like system that relies on fast players and calls for much of the quarterback pressure to come from the defensive line. At his spot, Davis is allowed to often drop into coverage, read the quarterback and react. He said he often only has to beat one man to get to the ball.
“I’m loving it,” Davis said. “I hope it’s going to keep paying dividends for me.”
The Panthers knew they were getting a speedy athlete when they drafted the former Georgia star. The Shellman, Ga., native played both linebacker and safety in college. When Fox said he thought Davis could be like Brooks on draft day, he also indicated he could be a “Roy Williams-type of safety.”
Fox had trouble figuring out where to use the 6-foot, 240-pound Davis in his rookie year, flipping him between both positions. He was moved permanently to linebacker in 2006, and Sunday’s game against Atlanta will be his 34th consecutive start.
“Because he is very, very fast, they can use him in multiple schemes and put him in different positions,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He played very, very well for them last season and I would anticipate that he has improved.”
His teammates say they’re seeing a different player.
“He’s matured not only as a player but as a man,” Diggs said. “I think it’s carried over to his play. He’s a lot more accountable. He’s a lot more responsible. He’s just becoming an all around player.”
Part of that maturity was Davis’ offseason of film work. He devoured as much video of Brooks as he could find, hoping to emulate the former NFL defensive player of the year.
“I think the biggest thing with Derrick, he did a great job of reading the quarterback and reacting,” Davis said. “He had so many picks just based on playing that position and reading and reacting to the quarterback from the backside position.”
With Brooks out of the league after being released by the Bucs in the offseason, Davis is hoping the Panthers can have the best linebacker unit in the NFL. Middle linebacker Jon Beason made the Pro Bowl last year and has led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Diggs provides a veteran presence in the other starting spot.
But with this defense, Davis is charged with being the tackle collector.
“He’s just one of those talented athletes that God blessed with great ability,” Diggs said. “That comes along with maturity. He’s realizing that, and he’s starting to apply it now.”