INDIANAPOLIS — It didn't take long for Carl Davis to find a mentor at the University of Iowa. As a freshman, he looked for a senior that played with the same toughness and "hard-nosed" edge he wanted to emulate.
He quickly found Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels.
They shared only one college season together before Daniels was drafted with a fourth-round pick in 2011. For Davis, it left a lasting impression. He soaked up Daniels' wisdom, followed his leadership.
"A guy that I looked up to," Davis said, describing Daniels this week during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. "He mentored me, helped me to understand the Iowa defense and the Iowa way. I still talk to him today. He helps me through everything."
Davis said he last heard from Daniels in January after the Senior Bowl.
A panel of NFL scouts voted Davis the Most Outstanding Practice Player of the Week in Mobile, Ala. His performance boosted his draft stock, vaulting him within range of cracking the first round.
Immediately after, Daniels gave him a call.
"He just told me, 'Good job,' and, 'Keep it up,'" Davis said. "You know Mike, 'Don't get complacent.' That's the type of guy he is. Always play with a chip on your shoulder."
Davis said he spoke with the Packers at the Senior Bowl. He's among a platoon of defensive tackles Green Bay could potentially take near the end of the first round.
Even with coach Mike McCarthy acknowledging he'd like free agent defensive tackle Letroy Guion back with the Packers next season, and the possibility of a healthy B.J. Raji also returning, Green Bay would benefit from strengthening their interior defensive line high in the draft.
Davis isn't the only high-ranked defensive tackle with a Packers connection. Jordan Phillips, the fourth-ranked defensive tackle, was coached by new Green Bay defensive front assistant Jerry Montgomery at Oklahoma. Packers coach Mike McCarthy hired Montgomery last week.
Phillips said he formally interviewed with Green Bay's entire staff at the combine, including Montgomery. To Phillips, Montgomery is like a "big brother." He was proud when Montgomery earned his first NFL coaching job.
Yes, he's thought about the possibility of reuniting in the NFL.
"It would be a great thing," Phillips said. "We're a dynamic duo."
Last week, Montgomery marveled over his former defensive tackle's athleticism. Phillips is 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, and might run a 4.8-second, 40-yard dash Sunday when defensive linemen participate in on-field workouts.
"Excited about his upside," Montgomery said. "… It'll be interesting to see where he fits into what we do, but he can play a three technique, a nose, and he can play a four (technique). I wouldn't ever put him on an edge outside there, but he can play a four in the run game."
Montgomery said Phillips' interior versatility reminds him of Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler. The website NFL Draft Scout compares him to Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe, citing his blend of size and athleticism.
Phillips, priding himself as a run stopper, used another comparison Saturday.
"I'd like to think I'm going to play like Vince Wilfork," Phillips said, referring to the longtime cornerstone of the New England Patriots' defense. "He's a big run stopper – athletic, big. He makes a lot of plays. He helps the team make a lot of plays, and I just feel like that's what I'm going to do."
Versatility is one of Davis' strengths. At 6-foot-5 and 321 pounds, he could end up playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. He also believes he's a fit as a 3-4 nose tackle. Scouts rave about his base strength, accurate hand placement, and ability to shed double teams.
At tackle, Davis didn't match Daniels' stats during his final college season. His two sacks and nine tackles for loss ranked outside the Big Ten leaders, though they were similar to Phillips' two sacks and seven tackles for loss last fall. Scouts are intrigued with his upside, but NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Davis needs to be more consistent.
"You watch the tape," Mayock said, "and you go, 'Man, he's around a lot of plays, but he's not making all the ones you want to see.' He's big, he's got athletic movement skills. He ought to make more plays. Then he went to the Senior Bowl where, on the one-on-one stuff, he looked great.
"So Carl Davis has first-round size and athletic ability. He's just got to put it together more consistently."
There's a lot of time before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the clock April 30. Almost anything is subject to change at defensive tackle, a position that has plenty of depth. Right now, the only certainty is USC's Leonard Williams, the top defensive tackle prospect and perhaps No. 1 overall in the draft.
Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, the second-ranked player at his position, said he formally interviewed with the Packers at the combine. Shelton will almost certainly be off the board well before Green Bay drafts at No. 30. It's no guarantee Davis and Phillips will be available, either.
A back injury limited Phillips to four games during his sophomore season. He rebounded to play all 13 games last season, but doctors will want to be sure there's no long-term injury risk. If Phillips clears medically and performs well in drills, he could slide up the first round.
Davis could also benefit from a strong combine. He wants to continue his momentum from the Senior Bowl. Next season, maybe he could reunite with his mentor on Green Bay's defensive line.
"I noticed that my name has become a little more relevant right now," Davis said. "I'm just trying to control what I can control right now. That's this week at the combine, and just trying to put up some good numbers and meet with some teams, and just try to let them get a good feel for me. We'll deal with what round I go in on draft day."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood