Sometime between January and training camp. He doesn't know precisely when, but it was sometime in the past six months when linebacker Rod Davis disposed of that giant chip that rode his shoulder most of his rookie season.
As a fifth-round draft pick in 2004, Davis was sent to the School of Hard Knocks, known to most rookies as special teams. He occasionally played linebacker in the Vikings' nickel defense, but that was more an indictment on how thin the linebacking corps was a year ago than how well the rookie had progressed.
In the offseason, the Vikings massively grew their depth at linebacker. By adding Sam Cowart through free agency and Napoleon Harris through a trade, linebackers like Davis and Raonall Smith instantly became bubble players, rather than reserves one injury from starting.
Yet by the fourth preseason game last week in Seattle, Davis was playing the role Vikings coaches have longed to see. Not only was he a special teams' ace, he was making special plays at middle linebacker. He led the team with seven tackles.
With massive roster cuts due just 48 hours after the Vikings played Seattle, Davis insists he wasn't playing for his job.
"I don't get caught in who is battling who for spots, I can't get caught up in that," Davis said. "I believe in myself and I believe I have the ability to be playing. I didn't take that as a motivation factor. I came into camp thinking no matter what happens, I'm going to do my thing and let the chips fall where they may."
The chips began to fall way before training camp.
In February the Vikings traded for Harris, who became the starting strongside linebacker. The Vikings later traded for Cowart, who was anointed the starter at middle linebacker. Eventually E.J. Henderson was moved to the weak side. That left Davis as a backup middle linebacker.
No problem for Davis, who appears to value his role on special teams almost as much as on defense. His new approach is a welcome sound for the Vikings.
"The main difference is last year I was a little frustrated because I didn't understand the business part of it," Davis said. "Last year I was a special teamer and I didn't take that role as well as I should. I'm taking that role this year and that's because of maturity. I've realized sometimes you have to wait your turn.
"This year I said I was going to come in and if special teams is where I was at, I'm going to come in and be a star and lead special teams. That's the big difference between this year and last year.
"This year I accept my role and I know some day my chance will come and I'll be ready."
Henderson, who was made aware that he was moving to the weak side just two days before the preseason opener, likes the depth at linebacker much more this year than last.
"It's probably the deepest we've been at linebacker in a long time," Henderson said. "If anybody goes down we have guys that can step in and play at the same level."
Cowart has noticed the depth, too.
"We have a lot of good linebackers who aren't starting," said Cowart. "And we're all starting to jell as a team and that's good."
Vikings defenders hope the changes from last season to this season will all be for the better. Davis knows he could be their poster boy. It's only a matter of time, he said, until he gets his chance to shine.
"Last year linebacker was one of our weaker points so we had to get better and we upgraded," Davis said. "I didn't take that as a negative because I know what I'm capable of doing and I know I can compete with anybody. I won't back down from anybody. I'm going to do my thing regardless of who they bring in."
Davis 'Gets It' In Second Season
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