August 2, 2006
RALEIGH -- N.C. State coach Chuck Amato and his staff have several personnel decisions to make in the early stages of August practice, as the Wolfpack tries to develop its identity and chemistry going into its Sept. 2 opener against Appalachian State.
One player they'll be watching with particularly keen interest is senior Reggie Davis. He was moved to linebacker during the final week of spring practice, after spending his first three seasons at State as a tailback. He proved to be a quick study and was the leading tackler in the spring game.
Now Davis is listed as the starter at the will linebacker spot on State's preseason depth chart. If he is able to continue the transition successfully, he would help fill one of the voids left on defense and would help shore up a linebacker corps short on depth and experience.
Amato and Davis' teammates are mindful that Davis has only a few official days of practice under his belt at the position and has no experience at the position whatsoever under fire in true game conditions. The spring game hardly resembled the situations Davis will see once the season heats up.
But for a variety of reasons, Davis rated as perhaps the most intriguing player on the roster going into two-a-days.
"We've only had three days to work with him at this point, and he showed something," Amato said. "He showed something. The only way we can find out is to make sure he gets in there and he's got the right people around him, so we're not analyzing him with inferior people or against inferior people. And the mental aspect of it is going to take a while. But you know, he's a very smart individual.
"I've been wanting to do that with him. I've been kidding him for years about going to another position and getting an opportunity to play in the NFL. And the only way to do that is to get on the field."
Amato is quick to point out that if Davis doesn't develop, or if flaws become obvious as fall practice continues, State will have to look elsewhere for its answers at linebacker.
"We may go into two-a-days, and two weeks into it it's not working like it should," Amato said. "But he is and we are very optimistic about it."
Davis, listed at 6-0 and 246 pounds, rushed for 346 yards and four touchdowns on 97 carries over the course of his first three seasons at State. His most playing time came in 2004, when he ran for 227 yards and three TDs, including 72 yards in a win over UNC.
He spent last season battling for playing time with Darrell Blackman, Bobby Washington, Andre Brown and Toney Baker. As Brown and Baker emerged as true freshmen, the opportunities for Davis and Washington dwindled. Davis finished with 77 yards on 27 carries and no touchdowns.
Blackman has moved to State's Z-back position, and Washington has left the program, but with Brown and Baker entrenched at tailback, Davis still found himself on the outside looking in going into the spring. He opened practice at fullback, which would have destined him for short-yardage carries and lead-blocking duties and a lot of time watching if and when Brown and Baker are paired together in the backfield.
DAVIS MUST LEARN VERY QUICKLY
Davis' move to linebacker was risk-free at the time. It came about partly because Amato still is searching for someone to replace departed starters Oliver Hoyte and Stephen Tulloch. It came about partly because -- outside of Pat Lowery and LeRue Rumph, who seem to have two spots locked up -- all other candidates are inexperienced. And it came about partly because Amato wants to find a way to get Davis on the field and allow him to show his ability in his senior season.
Davis has been the consummate team player in his first three years. He gave up a redshirt year as a freshman when he was pressed into action in the ninth game, against Duke, because of injuries to other backs. He received the team's Al Michaels Award for "putting team before self" that season.
Since then, he has played special teams and done the kinds of things coaches hope a backup will do to contribute. Davis also is considered one of the team's most upbeat and high-energy personalities, and the thinking is that he can be an inspiration and a leader on the defense if he can make the transition successfully.
On top of that, Amato knows Davis can be a headhunter.
"He's big, he's fast and he's tough," Amato said. "We put together a film every year on the top hits from the previous year. I want big hits on that film, not just (good hits). Last year we had seven that we put together, and you didn't have to be on offense or defense, it could just be anything. And he was in on three of them. He knocked the you-know-what out of somebody. So it shows he loves the physical contact."
The reality, though, is that what sounds good and what looks good on paper and what happened at the tail end of spring practice needs to get turned into actual performance on the field. What happened late in spring practice was that the coaches gave Davis a few basics and told him to run and make plays. And he had a coach, and usually Lowery, standing alongside to tell him where to be and what to do next.
"It's going to be key for him to get in there and truly learn the schemes," center Leroy Harris said. "When you move over and get in there in the spring, they're pretty much telling you what to do. Pat Lowery was getting him in the right place and telling him to blitz here or there. But he has to learn all the schemes now.
"They really kept it simple in the spring, because we had so many new guys. They didn't put in the whole package. They didn't want to just throw everything in the book at them and have their head spinning the whole time. They might have run only three or four blitzes, three or four coverages. But when practice starts, they're going to throw the whole playbook at them. They're going to open up the playbook and make them adjust. That's what Reggie did in the summertime, getting with the guys and trying to get the schemes down."
Once the system is down, Davis will have to adjust to live game situations. His main competitors for the open spot alongside Lowery and Rumph are junior James Martin, junior Ernest Jones, redshirt freshman Ray Michel and redshirt freshman Avery Vogt.
"He's got the potential, but experience means so much," Harris said. "You can't replace going out there and playing against a top tackle, a tackle that's 320 pounds and 6-7. A coach can tell you this is going to happen, that's going to happen, but until you go out and actually see it, it doesn't fully sink in. You still have to develop your instincts and your own timing and get your own kind of way of doing things out there."