Rook Relishing Time With Boyhood Idol

Steve King reports on how a rookie back from Clemson is seeing his childhood idol turning into a first-year mentor.

James Davis has always looked up to Jamal Lewis.

In one case, he has looked down at Lewis.

Now, finally, after all these years, Davis can simply look over to see him.

And he couldn't be happier.

"What a great opportunity to play with a back like Jamal, who I know and who grew up in the same backyard as me," the Browns rookie running back said after Monday morning's training camp practice.

Davis, a Clemson product who was the last of the Browns' three sixth-round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft, and Lewis, now entering his 10th NFL season overall and third with Cleveland, both played at Frederick Douglas High School in Atlanta.

"I remember watching him play in high school, wanting to be like him," Davis said. "He's the guy back at that school. He's the first one who has made it to the pros."

Lewis set all of the school's rushing records, then Davis came along and broke them – every one of them.

"I always kid him about that," Davis said. "I played on the varsity for 3½ years, and he played on it for three. He says that if he had had that fourth year like I did, I never would have been able to touch his records."

Lewis also put together some pretty impressive totals in college at Tennessee, and has done so in the NFL as well. He is in the league's top-25 career rushing list, and has vaulted to eighth on the Browns' career list. He has rushed for over 2,000 yards in a season and once held the league's single-game rushing record with 295 yards against – gulp! – the Browns in 2003.

Unless something unforeseen happens, he will be the Browns' go-to back again this year as he attempts to become the first runner in team history to put together three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Mike Pruitt from 1979-81.

Now comes Davis at the opposite end of the food chain. He's just trying to make the team. All that other stuff will have to wait, probably for a long time.

But he's done a good job of turning heads this far. He was especially impressive Monday with a 50-yard touchdown run.

"James has done a really nice job," Browns head coach Eric Mangini said. "What I like about him is that he's done it since the day that he got here.

"He understands the importance of special teams. There have been multiple drills where he is the first one down on special teams. That's what gets you noticed.  You have to pop off the screen. There are 80 guys in camp and it's easy to get lost in that group. Every day, every rep, they have a chance to get noticed.

"We sit in those staff meetings and we watch tape, whether it's collectively or whether it's offensively and defensively, and they want us to be talking about them in those meetings in a positive way. ‘Hey, did you see that James was the first one down?'  You notice the first one. That's hard to miss."

Lewis certainly hasn't missed what Davis has done, either.

"When I look at him, I see someone special," he said.

Davis treasures such praise.

"It's really great to hear that from Jamal," he said. "I've known him a good long minute. I'm just trying to do what I can to come in behind him here and make my own mark."

To make sure that happens, "Jamal is always in my ear," Davis said. "He'll say, ‘Nice run out there, but if you would have made a cut here, then it would have been even better.' I really appreciate that, to have him there with me, helping me, on the field and off it."

Said Lewis, "There are some things you do in college that you can't take to the pros. They don't work in the pros. I'm trying to help him learn what those things are."

Lewis is a good teacher, especially for this team.

"If you look at the style of offense than Mangini is building here, it's for a big back who likes to run downhill. That's what I like to do," the 238-pound Lewis said.

The 210-pound Davis said he, too, was "a downhill style of runner" at Clemson. So just like Lewis, he seems to be a good fit for the offense, at least judging from how he's played in the short time he's been with the Browns.

"They tell us here that if you gain the trust of the coaches, you'll get a lot of reps," Davis said. "I want for the coachers to trust me.

"I also see how the fans cheer for Josh Cribbs, and I want them to cheer like that for me someday."

Just like they cheer now for Jamal Lewis. And just like James Davis used to do back in the day in Atlanta.

 


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