To say that Carlton Davis is happy about the arrival of Todd Bowles would be an understatement. It's as if Davis is getting a suit personally tailored to him for the first time, or a recliner that is comfortable in all the right spots.
The fit couldn't be better.
"It's a great fit for me," Davis enthused. "Todd Bowles does a lot of things and he's really versatile. He loves long corners that can press. So far, I feel like this is the best defense I've been in since I've played football. I'm really excited about that."
Davis made those comments after practice on Tuesday, which was the seventh of the team's 10 allotted organized team activity days (OTAs). The OTAs, and next week's mandatory mini-camp, comprise Phase 3 of the offseason program, in which the team can closely approximate a real in-season practice, albeit without contact. Each one lasts about two hours, so by this point Davis has gotten a very good feel for what Bowles' defense will be asking him to do. And he's clearly thrilled about it.
The Buccaneers drafted Davis in the second round in 2018 and he played extensively in his rookie season, due in some part to a rash of injuries. He had the typical rookie-season ups and downs but showed steady improvement throughout the season and was clearly looking like a potential long-term answer as a starter by the end. However, Tampa Bay's pass defense as a whole struggled, to put it charitably.
Now Davis could be a key factor in turning that around, and he thinks the new scheme is going to make that possible.
"It's really aggressive," said Davis of Bowles' system. "It shows the offense the same look with different schemes. It's a defense that helps corners out a lot because we're not sitting ducks. The quarterback can't read and pick out what defense we're in, so it gives us a lot of time to do different things."
Davis missed three games last year with injuries of his own but was able to log 12 starts, 40 tackles, four passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. When Arians and his new staff arrived in Tampa, their first order of business was grinding through all of the Bucs' 2018 game and practice tape to evaluate the players on the roster. That had to be finished before free agency and the draft because the coaches needed to know where they most needed upgrades.
Despite the poor pass-defense numbers, Arians did think the Bucs had a good start for a cornerback group. At the NFL Meetings in Phoenix in March, Arians said that, while he didn't know yet who would emerge as the main slot corner, he did feel very confident in Davis and Vernon Hargreaves as his two outside press corners. Hargreaves, a first-round pick in 2016, missed all but one game last year due to injury.
"It feels great," said Davis of the show of support from his new coach. "I feel great about having BA as our head coach. I feel like he's a players' coach. Just to have him have confidence in me is great. It's a good feeling, and I'm just looking forward to living up to that."
Of course, Arians made those comments in March, about a month before the 2019 NFL Draft. In that draft, Tampa Bay selected cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting in the second round and cornerback Jamel Dean in the third round. Davis was actually one of two cornerbacks the team took in the second round in 2018, though M.J. Stewart might be moving into a hybrid safety/nickel type of role this year. Even Hargreaves is far from a seasoned veteran.
Arians liked what he saw in Hargreaves and Davis but NFL teams need a lot more than two reliable corners to get through even one season. They have a lot more young talent on hand, which is good for the team but also breeds competition among the players. Davis welcomes that, and he's in a good position to make the most of it, with a defense that fits him like a glove and a coach that believes in his future.
"It's great competition," said Davis. "We get a chance to push each other and get better every day. Iron sharpens iron. With that being said I'm just ready to compete with those guys and get better."