V. Davis' game a work of art

OWINGS MILLS -- The dreadlocked young football player with the sculpted biceps, chiseled abdomen and pro wrestler's chest majored in art. Vernon Davis' individual portrait of muscle and movement at the NFL scouting combine in February may have been his greatest masterpiece yet, eclipsing his collection of paintings, sculptures and sketches at the University of Maryland.

It was a record-setting showcase for the All-American tight end's athleticism and physique, propelling his stock into the blue-chip category.

Not coincidentally, league officials have invited the former Terrapin to Radio City Music Hall in New York for Saturday's draft. His name is expected to be called as soon as the San Francisco 49ers' sixth overall draft pick.
At 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, Davis resembles a cross between an Olympic decathlete and a body builder.

"I want to revolutionize the tight end position," Davis said in a telephone interview Friday night. "I want to be remembered as someone who changed the way people think about tight ends and what they can do.

"I want defensive coordinators to have to use their imagination to stop me from scoring touchdowns. I want to be the next big thing in the NFL."

At the combine in Indianapolis -- a critical proving ground for NFL prospects -- Davis ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.38 seconds. It's the fastest time ever by a tight end.

It tied the Washington, D.C. native for the fifth-fastest time among all incoming rookies with University of Miami wide receiver Sinorice Moss. Moss is 5-8 and 184 pounds, seven inches shorter and 69 pounds lighter than Davis.

To put it further in perspective, the average speed for tight ends was 4.81 seconds and the next fastest tight end behind Davis was 4.54 seconds. Davis' vertical leap of 42 inches was the highest at his position, as was his leap of 10 feet, 8 inches in the standing broad jump. He bench pressed 225 pounds for 33 repetitions, more than the average hoisted by offensive linemen who outweigh him by 50 to 100 pounds.

Between Davis' off-the-charts physical qualities and his production of 51 receptions for 871 yards and six touchdowns last season, he's drawing favorable comparisons to the likes of Antonio Gates, Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap and Tony Gonzalez.

"Number one, he's faster than all of them and it ain't close," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end with the Cleveland Browns who caught 662 career passes for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns. "I interviewed Vernon at the combine and I enjoyed it, how he sees himself as a football player.
"He is as explosive an athlete as I've seen come into the draft. You see explosiveness sometimes with players in the vertical jump. With him, you can see it on the field when he gets the ball or goes after the ball. That was exciting to see."

Nicknamed "Duke," – Davis' father was "Big Duke," and he was called "Little Duke" – Davis felt comfortable leaving school after his junior year after consulting the NFL draft advisory council and talking to San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, a former Maryland standout.

"I left because there was nothing left for me to prove at Maryland," Davis said. "It was starting to feel like high school football did."

Now, he wants to reinvigorate the position with his uncommon gifts.

"I feel good about being labeled the new breed of tight end," Davis said. "That's what it is when you got a guy who can do more than catch the ball, to get extra yardage after catching the ball and make guys miss. That pretty much speaks for itself."

Although considered humble and respectful by his coaches and academic advisors, Davis doesn't lack for confidence.

Just look at his response when asked how he compares to the Chargers' Gates, an All-Pro who played basketball at Kent State.

"I think Antonio Gates is good," Davis said. "But there are some things when I look at the guy he does a little better than myself, and things I do better than him as far as speed."

About the only knock on Davis' game is that he's not a dominant blocker. He acknowledged that he could stand for some improvement at the point of attack.

"I'm always going to try to improve at everything," said Davis, who averaged 17.1 yards per catch last season.
Davis' profile has expanded dramatically since the combine. He's being paid to wear Under Armour sports apparel and to ingest NFL-approved EAS supplements.

"I take this very seriously, my preparation, my body, what I eat, everything," Davis said. "This is my business."
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen rarely expresses regrets, but wishes he had been able to get the football more often to Davis.

Davis' intelligence is another positive factor. He understands how to read defenses on the fly and scored a respectable 20 on the Wonderlic logic and intelligence exam.

"He's so different than any guy," Friedgen said. "He's just in a class of his own."

A fortunate NFL offensive coordinator, quite possibly the 49ers' Norv Turner, is likely to devise schemes intended to create mismatches by isolating Davis against slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs.
"I get excited when I see that," Davis said, "because I know I have the advantage."

Two years ago as the Browns' sixth overall pick, Kellen Winslow II signed a six-year, $40 million contract. Davis said he already has plans for his impending wealth. He wants to purchase a resplendent new home for his grandmother, Adaline Davis.

Davis says he can envision himself striding out for touchdowns, perhaps in the Bay Area with the 49ers or the Oakland Raiders, who draft seventh overall. Or maybe it will happen in the chilly confines of Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers who draft fifth overall.

The colors and shapes are vividly running through Davis' mind, and he can't wait to make his dreams a reality.
"As a football player, I want to be regarded as one of the most hard-working, athletic guys in the NFL," Davis said. "As a person, I want to be known as one of the most genuine, kind-hearted people you'll ever meet. I'm going to do the same thing I did at Maryland: give it all I got, everything I have."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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