NFL teams, and especially the Pittsburgh Steelers, expect a lot from the players who are entering their second season as a professional. With a year under their belt, the step forward in their progression should be sizable. But what about a player no one had any expectations for as a rookie in 2020?
That would be the category Carlos Davis, drafted in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, would fall into.
As a 7th round pick, most view the selection as nothing more than a glorified undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA). As Dave Schofield always says about 7th round picks, they are UDFAs teams don’t want to have to battle other teams to sign them. So, when Davis made the roster, people were surprised. Without a preseason, no one knew what to expect from the former Nebraska Cornhusker. Then, when Davis was getting a helmet on game days over Isaiah Buggs, people took notice.
It all started with Davis’ “recipe” for success leading up to his rookie season.
“I got a little help because if you get drafted, your coach can speak to you personally over the phone,” Davis told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I was able to talk to Coach Dunbar. We would go over the playbook, go over the install. I would go to the park and have my girlfriend help me run through the plays. She was familiar with the playbook. She doesn’t understand it like I do, but she knows the calls. She would record my videos that we would send to Coach Dunbar. He would ask who was in the background, is that your coach. I told him yes, she was until I get with you.
“I told her to not be sensitive. If she sees something wrong, call me out. Even if we are running plays and I couldn’t get out quick enough, she would let me know. That was huge. My brother and I used to do everything together. To have my girlfriend do it as I prepared for the biggest stage, I trusted her, and it went well. It was new and I liked it. I wasn’t afraid to have my girlfriend help me.”
What was it like for the rookies in 2020 with no in-person minicamps or Organized Team Activities (OTAs)? It was unique, to say the least.
“I was doing a lot of drill work,” said Davis. “Coach Dunbar would have us send videos and stuff to him. I just took it really seriously. I knew how to train myself, so that part was easy for me. I knew what it took to get into shape and be in the best possible shape for me. When I got there finally for camp, I was 310, and then I got down to 290 pretty quick and stayed there the whole season.”
The weight loss is usually something which takes rookies time to figure out is necessary at the professional level. It isn’t about being bigger and stronger, it is about being in great shape, highly conditioned. However, Davis realized, and accomplished, this on his own. How did he do it, you ask?
“I was eating a lot better,” said Davis. “A lot of clean food. Vegetables, seafood. It started to shred off. I will eat anything if it helps me, even if I don’t like it, so it wasn’t hard for me.”
Davis completely changed his life the moment he was drafted by the Steelers. He would go to sleep every day at 8 p.m., stayed after practice every day and was the last one to leave the weight room. Coaches took notice, and Davis learned exactly what it takes to not just make the team, but to succeed.
“You learn a recipe,” Davis said. “What works for you, what doesn’t work for you. I have been doing it for so long. I know what works for me, so I stick to that. I add in stuff I like. Coach Dunbar sent us drills to do. I did the stuff I liked and the stuff I didn’t like because I knew it was going to make me better.”
Davis was able to gain some valuable experience his rookie season, and after being inactive for the first seven games of the regular season, became an active member on game days and started to register tackles. It all leads to him spear-heading his role on the team in 2021, and how he can improve.
“The game is a lot faster,” said Davis. “When I think, I play slow. So really just fine tuning the playbook and being in the best shape I can be. Plus, pass rush and run blocking, just learning blocks. I am going to do that with my college coach this offseason. We run the same blocks where I went to school as in the pros. I am going to learn more blocks and how to play them.
“Like Coach Tomlin told me before I left at the end of last season, we expect you to be better than you were last year. That is what I took as far as the experience. I have one year under my belt. I am going to use that. Stuff I didn’t do well last year, I know what to work on to please my coaches and everyone around me. I know what to do better. I feel like the experience is going to make me better.”
There is a battle raging along the Steelers’ defensive line. Not for the starting positions, but mainly for the backup roles. Davis proved he is worth a roster spot, but his jump in 2021 could be a pleasant surprise for the Steelers and their fans.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.