Ryan Wood and Jim Owczarski talk about newly acquired inside linebacker Antonio Morrison and the return to practice of kick returner Trevor Davis. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – Trevor Davis didn’t attend the NFL scouting combine two years ago as a prized receiver. His invitation, he knows, was extended because of two plays from the same game – in the same quarter – his junior season at Cal.
On the first, Davis took a kickoff on the goal line, cut left to right across the field, found a seam and ran 100 yards for a touchdown. He took the next kickoff from the 2, looked left, turned right and sprinted up the sideline 98 yards to the end zone.
He wasn’t touched on either return.
Davis caught 40 passes for 672 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Cal’s top receiver in his senior season. Those two kickoff returns against Washington State as a junior got him drafted.
“I went to the combine,” Davis said, “because I was a special teams guy. Because I returned two kickoff returns to the house. I kind of have been a special teams guy for a while, even though in college I was a No. 1 receiver. I just knew.
“Special teams have always been my forte, and I like it.”
The Green Bay Packers like what Davis brings to their special teams.
They’ve seen what his 4.42 speed can mean as a returner. In their preseason opener last season against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles, Davis fielded a punt at the 31. He made the first defender miss, cut upfield into an opening, and outran the punter down the right sideline for a 69-yard touchdown.
Those plays have been nonexistent this month. Davis returned to practice Monday for the first time since straining his hamstring in camp’s first week. It’s been a lost preseason for Davis, who hopes to play in Thursday’s finale at Kansas City.
His extended absence makes Davis one of the more intriguing cases on the Packers' roster as cutdown weekend approaches. While other receivers have had their moments – rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling against Tennessee, Jake Kumerow against Pittsburgh, even J’Mon Moore last week in Oakland – Davis has had to watch from the sideline. He knows the cold reality this time of year. Don’t play, and it’s difficult to make the team.
Davis might be an exception. The Packers haven’t seen him much this month, but they know him. Over the past two seasons, Davis ranks second among all NFL punt returners with a 12.2-yard average.
“When he does go,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “he goes, like, really fast.”
It’s why Davis’ chances at cracking the Packers' roster probably didn’t diminish during his time away from the field. A team that has placed emphasis on getting faster the past couple years won’t be eager to jettison a proven special-teams commodity with game-breaking speed, especially after losing Jeff Janis this spring.
“We have history there,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “He’s proven some things in this league, so we have history there and can kind of evaluate that part of it. But he’s still a young player. He’s still kind of on an upward trend from an age perspective, and where he’s at in his career. So you have to weight it all.”
Davis’ role on the Packers roster is easy to spot, especially with Valdes-Scantling and running back Ty Montgomery struggling to field kickoffs cleanly this preseason. It was no coincidence Davis fielded punts and kicks Monday in his first practice back from injury.
His special-teams responsibilities extend beyond the return game. Recognizing it would be paramount to his value on a 53-man roster, Davis quickly added to his arsenal after the Packers drafted him in the fifth round in 2016. He wasn’t a gunner on punt coverage in college, but as a rookie Davis requested he be placed on the depth chart.
A year ago, Davis led all Packers gunners with five tackles.
“There’s no doubt in my mind what he’s capable of doing,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said earlier in camp. “… He’s got a special skill set that’s hard to deal with.”
For Davis, the frustration this preseason was not being able to carry that skill set over to the offense. Davis, naturally, wants to be more than a core special-teams player. This month was a chance to show he’s capable of a larger role. Instead, he couldn’t get off the sideline.
Regardless, Davis figures to have job security so long as the Packers continue believing he’s among their best special-teams players.
“If I was to talk about Trevor’s place on our team,” McCarthy said, “I think his No. 1 priority would be based off what he’s done in the past on special teams. He’s been an excellent returner, particularly really coming on last year, and let’s not forget he was probably our best gunner – our most productive gunner – last year.
“This is a big week for him. He knows that. Just want to get him through today and tomorrow, then hopefully practice again on Wednesday and get him out there against Kansas City.”