Buster Davis played every linebacker position during his five seasons — one as a redshirt — at Florida State. He's a versatile and tenacious player that Tom Marino described as, "a tackle machine," heading into the 2007 draft.
Marino continued his evaluation of Davis by saying that he "has excellent instincts and is a smart player. One of those guys that always seems to be around the football. He is short, though, and has a tendency to get heavy."
Indeed, at 5-feet-9 and 239 pounds, Davis is both the shortest linebacker on the roster and the second heaviest — Philip Wheeler tips the scales at an even 240 pounds, but he's also 6-feet-2.
Brandon Mellor of NoleDigest.com described Davis as "very boisterous. He has a non-stop motor and never quits. Legendary Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews called him the "bell cow" of the defense, because the rest of the defenders followed his lead and he is never quiet."
Davis' production at FSU certainly backs this praise up, as he amassed 200 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks — a big number for a middle linebacker — over the course of his junior and senior seasons in Tallahassee. He was invited to the Combine in 2007 and worked out at his Pro Day, registering a 4.69 time in the 40 — which is good, but not quite the speed that scouts were looking for in a player with his diminutive stature.
Davis with Arizona during the 2007 preseason
The Arizona Cardinals selected him in the third round of last year's draft (69th overall), but released him in the final cutdown to 53. He was subsequently signed to Detroit's practice squad, where he remained for the entire 2007 season. Davis was one of the players that failed to make the cut this year as well, but the Colts moved quickly once he was waived and claimed him over the weekend.
Tony Dungy was very complimentary of the signing and sounded excited to bring Davis on board. "Buster Davis we liked coming out of college," Dungy said. "He's been in Detroit's system, knows what we're doing, and plays with a lot of energy. We really, really liked him anyway and thought we had a chance to upgrade our linebacker corps."
By all observations, Davis seems like the kind of player that the Colts look for at the linebacker position — someone who is considered undersized, has an exceptional motor, a tenacious attitude, is excitable, and thrives on contact and being around the ball.
He has experience in the Detroit scheme, which was installed by Rod Marinelli, a longtime assistant (defensive line coach) to Dungy and someone that is certainly familiar with — and partial to — the variation of the Cover 2 defense that Dungy is famous for and that the Colts deploy.
By proxy, Davis is familiar with that system as well and has already been trained with a year of working on the scout team, learning what is essentially the Colts defense.
The only issue is that Detroit and Arizona aren't exactly powerhouse teams in the NFC, with scads of defensive talent — especially at the linebacker position — and a premium on roster spots.
It is particularly distressing that Davis was cut loose by the Cardinals as early on in the process as he was: As a third-round draft pick, he would have needed to be a real disappointment to the coaching staff for him to be let go.
In all likelihood, Arizona's switch to a hybrid defense — with strong leanings towards being a 3-4 defense — in 2007 was what precipitated Davis' release. With the players they had on hand and the system they were trying to implement, Davis just didn't fit into the scheme, since such defenses require heavier, taller men, especially in the middle, where space is at a premium.
In Detroit, they were able to hide him on the practice squad for a season and were probably going to bring him back, but had to suspect that he wasn't going to clear waivers. People with this kind of experience and mentality don't exactly grow on trees and both the Lions and the Colts front offices know it.
However, one still has to wonder why his NFL career is barely 18 months old and he has already been cut twice. If a player is skilled and grasps the system, height and weight are generally irrelevant. Marinelli's system in Detroit values the same characteristics — both mental and physical — that the Dungy/Meeks defense values in Indianapolis.
Now that he has a fresh start with the Colts and his past is behind him, the real focus will now be on Davis and how he responds to the opportunity he has been given.
Dungy and his staff have certainly done more with less — Davis is one of three linebackers chosen in the third round, and two of the other three were undrafted — so the all-important next step for Davis will be to take his winning attitude and allow himself to flourish in a winning environment.
He is young enough that he should still be resilient despite the bumpy start to his NFL career, but only time — and the attitude Davis brings with him to practice and games — will tell.