SDBR Exclusive: One-on-One with DT Carl Davis

Tom Telesco’s top objective this offseason is to get bigger and stronger on both sides of the line. The offense is off to a good start, with Orlando Franklin joining a re-signed King Dunlap on the left side, but the defense still must be addressed. With that in mind, we caught up with an intriguing draft-day candidate, Iowa DT Carl Davis, for an exclusive interview.

The Chargers do not run a traditional 3-4 defense, but they could sure use a traditional two-gap defender like Davis. A physically imposing prospect, Davis (6-foot-5, 320 lbs.) plays with great leverage and functional strength. He would provide an immediate boost to San Diego’s run defense after the 2014 Chargers were one of just a half-dozen teams to allow at least 4.5 yards per carry.

“I’ve seen teams that I’ve talked to that run a 3-4 and I’ve talked to some teams that run a 4-3,” Davis said. “Some teams see me as a 1-technique, a 3-technique, a defensive end, whatever. And that’s really a good thing for them to see me as a versatile guy who can play multiple positions. I don’t have a preference for what team or what scheme I want to play in.”

Just like on offense, Telesco is slowly rebuilding San Diego’s defensive line. It started last offseason, when he selected Arkansas State NT Ryan Carrethers in the fifth round. Davis would speed up this rebuild significantly, as he could spell Carrethers in obvious passing situations and play primarily at defensive end in the base defense.

Davis has more playmaking ability than his college stats (3.5 sacks and 14.5 TFLs for his career) indicate. He proved as much during Senior Bowl week, where -- free from the shackles of his two-gap responsibilities -- he consistently beat opponents off the ball and found his way into the backfield with a combination of swim moves and bull rushes.

He continued to push his draft stock upward with a good showing at the NFL Combine. He ran a 5.07 40-yard dash and posted a 33-inch vertical jump, good numbers for his size.

“The Combine was crazy,” he said. “There were a lot of different things going on, going to meetings and doing different things medically. It was definitely a challenge -- I didn’t get a lot of sleep -- but it wasn’t that bad. I got to meet some more players who will be in this year’s draft, and I had I good experience talking to some teams.”

One of those teams -- the Carolina Panthers -- has already reached out to Davis to arrange a private visit. That shows how well Davis could fit in San Diego, as Rivera helped install San Diego’s hybrid defensive system when he was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2008-2010.

The Chargers have yet to arrange a private visit -- the team may wait until after Davis’ Pro Day on March 23 -- but that doesn’t mean Telesco is not interested. Davis is well aware of how this process can go, having spoken to one of his former Iowa teammates who was picked by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of last year’s draft.

Said Davis: “I talked to [Chris Kirksey] and he thought he was going somewhere and it ended up being a whole different team that drafted him, a team that barely even talked to him, so you never really know in this process.”

Davis knows it is impossible to predict which team will call his name on draft day, but that doesn’t prevent him from trying to figure it out. He is following free agency closely, just like the rest of the NFL universe, as he tries to decipher which teams will be looking to draft defensive linemen.

For example, the lone team to schedule a visit with him -- the Panthers -- recently re-signed DT Dwan Edwards to a two-year deal, meaning the Panthers will return their entire four-tackle rotation of Edwards, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Colin Cole. The Chargers, meanwhile, appear to have a stronger need at the position, even after re-signing Ricardo Mathews to a one-year deal.

“I follow things really close just to see where I could go,” Davis said. “It seems like this year there are a lot of defensive tackles that are getting moved around. We saw [Darnell] Dockett leave the Cardinals and we’ll see what happens with [Vince] Wilfork. There are a lot of different things going on. I try to pay really close attention and just talk to my agent to see if he knows anything. But we really don’t know anything until draft day.”

Not only is where he will go a mystery, but when he will go is still up in the air as well. Davis is one of the toughest players to peg, as mock drafts have him going anywhere between Rounds 1 and 4 (although the trend lately has him going much closer to the high end of that spectrum).

Although Davis tries to avoid mock drafts as much as possible, he has seen these diverse projections and takes them all in stride.

“Wherever they want to take me is fine,” he said. “I’m happy to play this game and I’m looking forward to it being my job. I understand some teams have me high and some teams have me low, because some teams might not need help on the defensive line, so I understand why they have a four/five grade on me. I’m just trying to go as high as possible.”

Where would the Chargers feel comfortable taking Davis? The first round appears to be a stretch, as it seems likely Telesco will give strong consideration to drafting one of the top two running backs (Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon) if they are available at No. 17. But given Telesco’s past two drafts, it would not be surprising to see him package his second- and fourth-round picks to move up and tab Davis somewhere around No. 50.

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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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