Jarrad Davis, the Jets' free-agent linebacker, had much to say during a Zoom call with reporters last week during the team's voluntary OTAs. Perhaps some of the comments that were most revealing concerned two of the club's recent draft picks -- Jamien Sherwood (Rd 5, Auburn) and Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State, Rd 6).
They each were listed as safety in college, but General Manager Joe Douglas, Head Coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich see them as linebackers.
"Those two guys look really, really good," Davis said. "The whole linebackers' room is a solid group, nothing but talented dudes in there growing every day and pushing, pushing. Competition at the highest level. They know what to do. As we continue to go on, I'm excited to see how these guys pan out. In this type of scheme, I can see these guys with long careers."
For Davis, 26, a long NFL career appeared to be unfolding when he was a 2017 first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. He fell out of the picture there, but Douglas has been adept at pursuing value where others might not see it. In the Jets' new 4-3 scheme on defense, Davis (6-1, 227) brings speed, strong lateral movement and a nose for the ball.
Still, the question lingers: How could a first-round pick find himself last season watching his teammates from the sideline?
"I don't know what happened," Davis said about the 2020 season when he played in 14 games, but started only 4. "There were a lot of things. I had to re-evaluate things that happened for both parties. At the end of day that's in Detroit and I haven't thought much about it. I know there are certain things I need to do, to bring the best me every day.
"It was a great learning experience for me and made me appreciate the game more than before. Sure, my performance could have been better, but at the end of the day it is what it is, no hard feelings, no bad blood. I definitely feel very excited to be in New York, with this scheme, Coach Saleh, and the players out there. I'm happy to be on a team that is young and talented. I feel extremely blessed to be in this position because it didn't have to go this way. For lack of a better term, it's a rebirth."
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said: "His time for whatever the case may be, in the league, so far was not what he expected the NFL to be in. It just feels like we're breathing new life into him and he's just, he's just improving every day... very excited about finally having that opportunity to work with him."
Along with C.J. Mosley, who is back in the fold after missing nearly all of the 2019 season and opting out of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus, that's two-thirds of the "3" in the 4-3 defense. Blake Cashman, the two draft picks and a handful of others will compete to complement Davis and Mosley as they prowl behind a revamped and stacked defensive line.
"The scheme allows us to show who we are as athletes," Davis said. "It's about me going out there and working technique every day and sharpening skills. I feel comfortable and the guys around me are comfortable.
"Playing with C.J. is exciting, I love being able to have someone of that caliber next to me. Just to have someone as locked in and focused on his job helps raise the bar. Having someone of his caliber out there really helps to naturally set the tone."
The trajectory of Davis' early career with the Lions started out strong (76% of snaps in 2017; 99% in 2018) then declined the next two seasons (59% and only 29% last season).
"I feel like my whole life, I've been playing since I was 6 years old, I feel like I know things that got me into the league [out of Florida, like teammate Marcus Maye] in a little sneaky moment in life. Things transitioned, my identity was built into this game and to me as a football player.
"The biggest lesson is that this is just a game. The game can't love me back. Once I realized that, my understanding and my belief allowed me to relax and just be who I'm going to be. I give my effort, my passion, my drive, my determination. They're still high -- even higher. Now I can just go out there and be free, have fun and be me.
"It was tough in Detroit not being able to play, sitting back and being supportive was challenging. It was a position I hadn't been in a long time.
"Now, I've got to take care of J.D. the person."