Jarrad Davis walked up to the podium on Friday evening with a familiar look in his eyes and his patented gap-toothed smile that never seems to wear off.
On Friday, the Detroit Lions signed Davis back to the team after their 2017 first-round pick spent a year with the New York Jets. Davis’ time in Detroit didn’t go over too well during the first four years of his career wearing Honolulu blue. After a promising start in his rookie season, Davis failed to develop his clear athletic abilities, and he was eventually reduced to a rotational role before the team decided not to re-sign him once his rookie deal concluded last offseason.
There were a lot of reasons Davis never developed, but struggles with injuries have been a consistent issue in his time as a pro. An ankle injury cost him five games in 2019 and he missed the first half of the 2021 season with the Jets with another injury. It wasn’t just the missed time that hurt Davis’ development, though. The 27-year-old linebacker clearly regrets playing through some of those ailments, but understands he has to live with the reputation of a struggling player right now.
“Just playing with injuries has been something that I’ve had to really understand that that’s not always the route to go,” Davis said in his introductory press conference Friday. “As a competitor, as a football player, I want to be out there no matter what, but through my years of trying to do that, I’ve really understood that that’s not the route to go. That’s something that I have to own as a player. I have to be real. At the end of the day, your tape is king. What people see out there is what they’re going ultimately going to label you as, and that’s okay.”
Being back in Detroit clearly means a lot to Davis. He called it “the place that pretty much raised me,” and noted how his time away from Detroit made him miss it more.
“Every time (in Detroit) wasn’t always a good time, but I’m telling you, ball here is fun,” Davis said. “I love playing in that stadium, I love being around that city, I love seeing Michigan summers. Winters, I’m still learning, still trying to grow on me, but I enjoy this place, I really do. I really do. And it just feels right. Just thinking about being here again, like, it just feels right more than anything.”
The Lions will be tasking their highly-praised coaching staff to unlock some of those traits Davis showed flashes of over the past five years. Head coach Dan Campbell noted Davis’ potential last year before ultimately decided not to re-sign him in 2021.
“Jarrad Davis, there’s something about that guy, man,” Campbell told The Detroit News last February. “Things I hear about the way he was coached, and just knowing the ability and aggressiveness, he intrigues me. He pops off the tape and you feel like, man, can we help this guy? Can we make this guy a better player?”
Unfortunately for Davis, his time with the Jets and defensive guru Robert Saleh didn’t go much better. Again, Davis had to deal with a bunch of negative criticism of his play. While he admits it’s hard to completely drown out that noise, he has learned to move on from it.
“As a football player, it’s not easy to go out and work hard every single day of the week, week in and week out, and come home without the result that you want,” Davis said. “So I’ve had to learn to really balance and understand that this thing is not going to be an overnight thing.”
Davis thinks he’ll benefit from a coaching staff full of former players, including his new position coach, Kelvin Sheppard, who played alongside Davis briefly in 2018.
“It’s a different role now, a different dynamic,” Davis said. “He’s a coach and I’m a player, but at the same time, it’s somebody I feel comfortable coming to and talking to and really just saying, ‘Hey bro, I need you to push me more,’ or ‘Hey man, I’m not getting this.’ And not feeling any type of way about it because we already laid that groundwork. I think that’s really special, you know? I don’t know a lot of guys that’s actually gotten to ever do that. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
Davis knows he won’t necessarily be handed an opportunity like he was as the team’s first-round pick some five years ago. Detroit doesn’t have a stacked linebacker room by any means—and he could certainly win himself a starting role—but he won’t be given the benefit of the doubt. Davis doesn’t seem to mind, though, as he believes that challenge will bring out the best in him. He wasn’t a four-year starter in high school, and he didn’t really get a chance to shine at Florida until his junior year. He knows what it’s like to earn it.
“There are so many things I’ve had to overcome and this is just one more thing in my life,” Davis said. “And it excites me because I’ve told people plenty of times, it’s not always easy to be on the top of the mountain. It’s not always easy. For me, my whole entire life, I’ve loved the hunt, I’ve loved the climb. I appreciate that. I appreciate how much it brings the best out of me.”
And with a brand new coaching staff, a new defensive scheme, and a fresh outlook on his own life, he’s ready to approach a familiar place with an upgraded mindset.
“It feels brand new, honestly. It’s amazing how life works. You step away from something or step away from a thing, and you feel like you don’t know what’s going to happen after you turn your back and walk out the door. You don’t know if that door is ever going to open back up again. You don’t know what it’s going to hold. You don’t know what the reunion looks like. You don’t know anything—if there’s even going to be a reunion. But it’s just amazing to be able to have an opportunity to come back in this building and to be able to go to work. I love it. This place is so familiar. I know it. There are people I know in the city that can help me be a better person, a better player. There’s so many things that excite me coming back to Detroit. It’s just a matter of staying focused and getting the job done.”