GREEN BAY – Trevor Davis almost sneers when he hears the term. He’d be forgiven for embracing the role, if not clinging to it. For three years now, one job description — special teamer — has kept Davis employed. His ability to return and cover kicks has been a security blanket, annually placing Davis on the 53.
Davis points to the position listed beside his name on the Green Bay Packers roster. “I was drafted as a receiver,” he said. Only for three years now, you couldn’t tell. Davis has played exactly 193 snaps as a receiver in three seasons. (Well, really two, with how hamstring injuries wiped out almost all his 2018.) He has caught eight career passes for 94 yards and just one touchdown.
Leaning against his locker during minicamp, explaining how the Packers didn’t drafted him to only return kicks, Davis made clear he’s hungry for more. He wants to shed this special teamer label, show he’s capable of contributing to head coach Matt LaFleur’s new offense.
“I know what I can do on that field,” Davis said. “My situation, I came in with three $10 million-paid receivers: Randall Cobb, Tae (Davante Adams) and Jordy Nelson. So in my mind, I was like, ‘To make this team, I’ve got to be a specialist, and I have to do my best at that.’ So I came in and did that, and I kind of got honed in as being an only-specialist guy, because I was real good at it, and kind of lose fact that I came in as a receiver, and what I can do in those parts.
“So just being able to show that and show that I also can make plays at that position would really help me.”
Yes, Davis entered a crowded receiver position when the Packers selected him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. In some ways, the depth chart is even more jammed now. Gone are Nelson and Cobb, and their expensive salaries. Adams remains, as does veteran Geronimo Allison. Behind them, there’s a much deeper depth chart than in 2016, loaded with young, developmental talent.
There are Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, who started establishing themselves last year as rookies and are poised for more growth in their first full offseason. There is Jake Kumerow, who finally stayed healthy enough to play in 2018, and was already drawing praise from quarterback Aaron Rodgers during minicamp. And then there are the wild cards: second-year receiver J’Mon Moore (a fourth-round pick last year), newcomer Jawill Davis (who played for the New York Giants last season and also has returner ability), and second-year receivers Teo Redding and Allen Lazard (holdovers from the practice squad).
Nothing is guaranteed for Davis. He will have to fight for his roster spot this fall, just as he has every year. He knows this August will be no different than previous years.
“It’s going to be big,” Davis said. “Every offseason, if you’ve noticed over the years since I’ve been here, have been big for me. It’s always a lot of buzz around me if I’m on the bubble, if I’m not. I mean, I’ve noticed that, and I always do. And it doesn’t really matter to me. Just know that every year is going to be the same, working hard and really just trying to show that I should be on the 53.”
Jobs aren’t won in June, but good work in the spring organized team activities and minicamp can help propel players into all-important training camp. The real test will start when players strap on their pads next month, but Davis appears to have put himself in an ideal position.
He has gotten reps with the first- and second-team offense this spring, and he has impressed.
“A guy that may have been forgotten a little bit,” coach Matt LaFleur said after one minicamp practice, “is Trevor Davis. He made a lot of great plays down the field. He has speed. ... I've been really impressed with him.
“I feel like he's come a long way. I feel like the effort and the intensity level with which he practices has certainly improved. I'm excited for him come training camp.”
Davis, too, is excited for camp. Because, at long last, he’ll finally get to play football again.
A hamstring injury sidelined Davis for almost the entirety of last year’s training camp. The issue lingered into the season. Davis arrived at Lambeau Field for the Packers' opener against the Chicago Bears, intent on returning kicks, but his hamstring was bothering him. The Packers decided to keep him inactive shortly before kickoff, then placed him on injured reserve a couple days later. Two games after Davis returned, his year ended with another hamstring injury that placed him back on injured reserve.
Davis said he’d never struggled with hamstring injuries before. He visited two specialists, trying to decide how to prevent them. Over the past several months, Davis said, he has focused on keeping his quads loose and hips flexible, alleviating strain on his hamstrings.
“The key for Trevor,” Rodgers said, “is just staying healthy. When he’s healthy, he’s been productive for us. He’s been a top-five return guy when he’s fully healthy. The tough thing is finding opportunities to get him on the field, but now with Jordy and James (Jones) and Randall gone, there’s opportunities for him to get in the mix at receiver. He’s making a lot of plays.”
Then Rodgers focused on Davis’ real test.
“He’s just got to keep rolling when we get the pads on.”
In non-contact practices, Davis’ speed can run unimpeded. Once those press-man jams come, and the traffic off the line of scrimmage increases, each rep changes.
Now healthy, Davis believes he is ready. Even if his special-teams ability should help him grab a roster spot, it’s an uphill climb to crack into the Packers’ receiver rotation. Davis profiles more as a true slot receiver than anyone on the Packers' roster, though that might not carry as much significance with how many bunch formations LaFleur is likely to use.
What should help, though, is Davis’ ability to make plays after the catch, a staple of LaFleur’s offense. Davis suggested the Packers' new offense utilizes the entire route tree, including short and underneath routes, more than in the past.
Regardless of what the new offense means for him, Davis wants to show he’s ready to be on the field as a receiver, not just a returner.
“At the end of the day,” Davis said, “it’s my first one in two years. I feel like I would’ve had a good (offseason) last year if I would’ve been able to do it, but my kind of name fell off the map because I was not in. So it’s finally coming back, and I feel like I’m just doing the same things that I would’ve been doing before.”