Trevor Davis eyes route to Packers success

Ryan Wood
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In a quiet hotel room, Trevor Davis stayed awake into the early hours studying.

This was a student cramming for the biggest test of his life. On the eve of his first practice with the Green Bay Packers, Davis admitted, he had nerves. Jitters. He wanted to be ready.

The Packers don’t waste time acclimating rookies to their offense, Davis said. He had to learn more than the standard route tree. There were pages to pour through, notes to take.

“Everything right off the bat,” Davis said. “It’s a lot, but you just have to go back to the hotel and study, study, study the whole time. I mean, they throw a lot at you, but as long as you study, I think you should be good.”

That’s what Davis was in his first NFL practice — quite good, actually.

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The fifth-round receiver showed his 4.42-second, 40-yard dash speed. Wheels that helped him get drafted despite being California’s fourth-leading receiver last season. In one-on-one drills, practice-squad cornerback Robertson Daniel pressed close to the line of scrimmage. Davis went deep, catching a pass 30 yards downfield.

It looked like a flash of natural, physical ability. It was something more. In his first steps, Davis noticed Daniel was being “patient” with his go-route. Davis took a wide release off the line of scrimmage, avoiding Daniel’s contact.

Unfettered, his speed took over from there.

“He’s really fast,” Daniel said.

He wasn’t getting burned again. Next rep, Daniel backpedaled to guard against the deep ball. Davis sold the go route, avoided Daniel’s jam off the line of scrimmage. With Daniel’s momentum going backward, Davis stopped on a dime.

The football was in his hands when he turned around.

After practice, Daniel walked straight from the field to the film room. He saw the problem. He’ll make the correction. For his first day, Daniel said, he walked away impressed with the Packers’ fifth-round rookie receiver.

“That’s route running,” Daniel said, “and understanding who you’re going against. He understands his opponent. Because a lot of guys I go against sometimes just try to swivel their way by me. He was taking a lot of wide releases (to avoid press-man coverage). He was taking wide releases away from my reach out, away from my strike point. Which is really smart.”

That’s something else Davis was in his first NFL practice — quite smart, actually.

The same student who crammed the night before showed up to the practice field wanting to prove there’s more to his game than pure speed. Davis was the third-fastest receiver at the NFL scouting combine in February, capitalizing on what he called a “surprise” invitation. It takes more than speed to earn a role in the Packers' passing game.

For proof, consider Jeff Janis’ first two seasons. The 2014 seventh-round pick arrived in Green Bay with freakish speed. He was faster than Jordy Nelson, faster than Randall Cobb. But Janis spent most of his first two seasons on the sidelines because, coach Mike McCarthy said, the youngster was too “inconsistent” on the field.

In Aaron Rodgers’ offense, trust is paramount. The two-time MVP quarterback must know that his target is where he needs to be, when he needs to be there. It’s the only way a receiver is getting the football.

Davis understands chemistry’s importance. He shared a college offense with Cal quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Trust was everything with Goff, too. That meant running precise routes, hitting spots on the field where his quarterback expected him to be.

“It’s everything,” Davis said. “I mean, in my mind, being a fast person, it can matter in college. But in the NFL, everyone is bigger, faster, stronger. This is what they live for. This is their job, and cornerbacks are really fast. So you have to be a great route runner.

“Working at that is everything, because you’re a receiver. It’s your trade. Running routes is literally everything.”

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Davis’ route running was criticized before the draft, but the Packers believe Davis is more than a pure speed receiver. Even if his ability to pick up yards after the catch is central to his skill set — Davis said he ran “a lot of bubble screens” at Cal — he enters the league as a polished prospect.

Moments after the Packers drafted him, director of football operations Eliot Wolf gushed about Davis’ route running. Very smooth, Wolf said. Sudden. Davis, at 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, played mostly on the perimeter at Cal. The Packers believe he has the shiftiness and technique to also play the slot.

“Good route runner,” Wolf said.

Davis didn’t know what to expect after his senior season at Cal. He caught 40 passes for 672 yards and two touchdowns last fall. He was tied for fourth-most receptions on his team, but finished with the second-most yards.

Davis was unsure whether a combine invitation would be extended to him. When it came, he knew the on-field drills would play to his strengths.

“The first thing that jumps out at you,” McCarthy said, “is his speed. And his hands. You look at the opportunities he had out there, he obviously played in a rotational-type offense. Obviously, everybody knows about the quarterback (Goff). He’s played in a versatile offense, and I think he’ll come in here and challenge. He brings a little bit of a different dimension with his vertical speed.”

Clearly, Davis’ best chance to crack the 53-man roster is his ability to stretch the field vertically. The Packers were without a consistent deep threat in their passing game after Jordy Nelson was lost to a torn ACL last season. Nelson’s return should change how opposing defenses play the Packers, but they would like to see Davis develop into another downfield receiver.

Davis knows he has a good chance with Rodgers, who he said “throws perfect deep balls.” If his speed is the key to unlocking a spot on the 53-man roster, his route-running will determine whether he sees the field.

So near the end of his first practice, after Davis shook Daniel for a wide-open catch underneath, it was worth noting cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.’s booming reaction.

“That’s a good route!” Whitt shouted. “That’s a good route!”

Not bad for the first day. and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood


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