Waiting for the Returns

Chicago - Rashied Davis is certain that he has an edge in punt returning skills due to his four seasons spent with the Arena League San Jose Saber Cats. From the looks of his play Thursday night against the Browns, it seems as if Davis' perception might be correct.

"It's all about deception and speed," Davis said. "You want the guys who are coming at you to think you will move one direction when in fact you have every intention of going the other way. Then once they are headed away from you, that's the time to turn on the jets and head down the field. I love to see the surprise in their eyes when I flash past with the ball tucked in my arms. What a beautiful sight."

Davis, who was the Saber Cats' most valuable player in 2005 with 44 touchdowns, seems to know what he's talking about. Fans in Chicago saw more than one Cleveland defender left scratching his head as Davis made quick cuts to head for open field. He averaged 20.5 yards on two attempts, including a 34-yard burst.

"I had six returns all the way to the house for San Jose this past year," Davis said. "That means I got the ball way back at the boundary wall then got through the opponents right to the goal. That's not an easy thing to do in Arena Ball because of the size of the field. It's shorter and narrower and return men are often easier to catch than they would be on an NFL regulation field."

For the preseason he finished with a 13.5-yard average on eight attempts, while his main competition, Bobby Wade averaged 11.9 yards per return.

"I know Bobby has the experience but I like what I see out of Davis," said GM Jerry Angelo. "He's an exciting player and I hope to see him get an opportunity during the season."

Davis admits to still having problems with pre-game jitters. Fortunately, he seems able to channel his nervous energy into productive play once the game starts.

"You wouldn't believe what I'm like in the locker room before we go out there on the field," Davis said. "I'm a bundle of nerves pacing back and forth. I can't stand thinking about the game, about what I am going to do. I'm not afraid, I just am so eager to get out there that the emotions are difficult to handle at times."

Once he steps on the turf, however, Davis is a different man.

"When play begins, I almost become serene. I become overwhelmingly confident. It's the strangest thing. I am so calm that plays seem to be unfolding in a kind of slow motion before my eyes. I can pick up tiny details and use what I see to my advantage. That works well both at the cornerback and as a returner."

Davis claims not to feel any pressure when he is the lone man down field waiting for the ball to come his way.

"I know most fans would think being alone like that would be somewhat scary, but it's not really that bad. On returns, you just have to feel complete faith in your line," Davis said. "You must feel confident that they will block for you that they will protect you. If you can't do that, you will end up with thoughts that everybody on the field is headed your way and that you'll get crushed under these massive bodies. Nobody can get a good catch in that frame of mind."

The only nagging fear that Davis does admit to is that of dropping the ball.

"Just think about that for a minute, there you are in a big stadium and every eye there is right on you. The ball is headed your way. It drops down near your arms, and boom, it hits the turf with a thud. Suddenly you're an idiot. That is every returner's nightmare. It's something I don't let myself contemplate. I have faith in my technique. That kind of mistake rarely if ever happens when I am out there."

As the source for his success, Davis again credits Arena ball.

"In that type of football, you catch quite often when you are facing away from the ball. I developed a sense of where it is in flight at all times. I can hear it whistling in the air coming towards me. That's a huge advantage since I am 5-9 and many of the defenders who are coming at me are well over 6-3 or 6-4. I have to be in the right place at the right time even without a clear view of the ball."

What's Davis' goal for 2005?

"I'd love to be the punt returner. I'm ready. I've had pro experience and all of this is familiar to me. The more I'm out there the better things seems to go. All I want is the chance to get deep on the field and make things happen. Tonight was a good start. The Bears need punt returner and I feel my purpose is to provide just that."


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