Davis started 4 games in 2005 and played in 10 total.
More importantly, the cast of linemen who can step in and play has dramatically improved in the last two years, and Davis is a part of that improvement. In 2004, Idaho's defensive line depth was so depleted that a 6-2, 240-pound defensive end started at tackle due to injuries. This fall, Davis finds himself surrounded by interior defensive linemen that are still relatively young, but powerful enough to compete. At the top are a couple 6-1, 295-pounders in junior Siua Musika (the most battle-tested of the entire unit and a perrenial starter since his true-freshman season) and sophomore Alex Toailoa (bullish and among the strongest players on the team). Right near the top of the chart is redshirt freshman Marvin Jones (6-2, 301) who has seen substantial playing time all season and is developing into an athlete who will be a force in the future.
And then there is Davis; an undersized lineman who simply has a motor that won't quit. He plays with an attitude, is tough, and just flat out appears to love the game. Through the first six games of 2006 Davis has started five of them. He has 10 tackles on the year, including 2 tackles for loss and last Saturday against New Mexico State recorded the first sack of his career at Idaho.
He plays a position that doesn't normally grab a lot of headlines, and in truth the better the defensive line performs the more opportunities are created for the linebackers and defensive backs to shine. It's just the nature of the position.
But we know it all starts up front, on both sides of the line, and that Idaho needs this group to continue to play as strong as they have in their first two WAC games if the Vandals are to be successful in the second half of the season.
Davis took a few minutes out of his schedule preparing for Louisiana Tech this week to speak with Gaylen Wood about how things are going for him and the defensive line this fall. Below is their conversation.
VV: Ryan, this is your second year as a starter now on the Vandal defensive line, and Saturday against New Mexico State the line was able to put a lot of pressure on New Mexico State's quarterback. You also recorded your first sack of the season last weekend. What did you guys do differently that made it possible to put so much pressure on their quarterback?
RD: Well, it's just one of the things you have to practice on, and everything comes together. We have the talent capabilities to do that every single game. Things are starting to come together. We're getting closer as a unit and starting to understand the scheme of things, and it puts us in the right position to make plays.
Coach Cregg has coached the Vandal defensive line for three years.
RD: Coach Cregg...Coach Cregg is one of my favorite coaches I've been around. I've been able to play for him. Things like that – the coaching staff – is the reason why I chose Idaho, as well as the small-town community. Coming from Southern California, Orange County, people are so busy and caught up with their own lives. Up here it's a more relaxed, slow-paced life, and people are more concerned about you and things like…just the friendliness in the area and stuff like that. I wanted to turn around a program.
VV: You have a pretty young group of linemen around you out there on defense, and you're the only senior among all the tackles. How are the young guys developing, and is their development making a difference in how much pressure your group can bring week-to-week?
RD: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's a huge difference having depth and knowing that it's not just up to the first two guys. There are backups that can come in, step up, and take your spot while you need to get a breather. The young kids are coming along great, working hard. Marvin [Jones] dropped 20 or 30 pounds in the off season, got himself into shape working his butt off. And Alex [Toailoa] is doing a great job this year coming back from his ankle injury and things like that. Siua [Musika] is having another good year like his freshman year, coming back from all of his injuries. So the group is doing great. The young depth is what we needed at Idaho. It gives us breathers while we're out on the field and people can keep it up.
VV: Do you find yourself being able to rotate a lot more this year than you were last year?
RD: Yeah. Exactly, and you know in the WAC a lot of teams like to pass; so you get tired. If you've got backups and stuff like that it increases the rotation and decreases your reps. Yeah, it helps out a lot.
VV: It's not very often you see a defensive tackle out there on the kickoff return team. I think you're third on the team in kickoff return yardage. How in the world did that happen? Is that something that you volunteered for? Is it your natural speed or what?
RD: Uh, I don't know (laughing). It was kinda funny to see myself [on the depth chart]. You know, you check the depth chart for special teams to see if you're on there, and all of a sudden I see a "R. Davis." There's Robert and Ryan (Davis); so I'm thinking, okay, you know, that's Robert. Then coach Nansen comes up to me and says, "You're the right back on kick return;" so I kinda laughed, you know, went with it, and I do what I can. If the ball comes to me, get it and see what I can do."
VV: Had you ever carried the ball before in your career?
RD: I played tightend in high school and a little bit of fullback in high school; so I've dealt with the ball that way and stuff. But JC, no, unless I got interceptions or fumbles. Nope. They kept it away from me.
VV: I'm amazed. Thanks, Ryan.
RD: No problem. Thank you.