FB Carey Davis always makes sure he knows the tailback's job, too, just in case it becomes his
It's a lesson, a good lesson, most running backs learn early: Any time you have a good game, credit your offensive line.
Carey Davis, the first-year fullback – or should we say part-time tailback? – is taking that lesson a step further this week. He's showering his linemen with steak, lauding them with lobster. Davis plans to feed the big men up front off his own plate.
On Friday night, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers resting Cadillac Williams, riding Earnest Graham hard in the first half and working around injuries to Derek Watson and Jacque Lewis, Davis got the call to run the ball after halftime against the New York Jets.
It seemed an odd choice, particularly if one hadn't followed the Bucs' Tuesday and Wednesday practices at training camp very closely. Davis has a grand total of three NFL games played and no career carries. He is also a compact 5-10 and 225 pounds and, as we mentioned, is listed at fullback.
But there he was, carrying 14 times for 67 yards, repeatedly breaking through the first line of tacklers. He helped the Bucs control the ball for 80% of the second half and mount two 80-yard scoring drives.
"It was just exciting," said Davis. "I'm just happy that I had the opportunity to be here and play well and prove to them that I could do it. That's exciting to me. I'm glad, first of all, that [Head Coach Jon Gruden] thought I could do it and then that I was able to prove him right."
As a result, Gruden awarded the game ball to Davis…and a little something extra. He promised to feed the hard-working back steak and lobster during the final week of training camp.
Coming off the field on Sunday, after the Bucs' first practice following Friday's game, Davis laughed that his first surf-and-turf was due that night, and that he planned to share it with his blockers.
"I told some of the linemen I would give it to them," said the easygoing Davis. "I'm not going to be able to eat it all. I can't eat that every day. I'm going to share it with the line and with the fullback. When you're playing fullback, you don't get that much love. Whenever I play tailback, I always give love to the line and to the fullback, because I know they don't get that much love out there.
"I just ran the ball. The O-line, they were the ones who did a good job. The offensive line and the fullback, the tight end blocking up front. It's pretty easy to roll when you've got big holes to run through."
As you can tell by how well he has learned the tailback rule of sharing credit, Davis does have a prior history carrying the ball. At Illinois, he played fullback but also frequently carried the ball out of a one-back formation. His career totals included 1,017 yards and one touchdown on 216 carries.
Davis finished his career at Illinois in 2003 and entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Indianapolis in 2004. He played in one game for the Colts as a rookie and, later that year, in two playoff contests for Atlanta, covering kicks on special teams. In 2005, he went to camp with the Falcons but was released, then signed to the Bucs' practice squad for about a month.
When Tampa Bay brought Davis back in the offseason, it was as a fullback and a special teams player. He took it upon himself to be ready for more.
"I picked up the tailback position during the offseason," said Davis. "When I was in college, my running backs coach told me, 'You should always learn both positions. You never know what can happen.' Ever since then, since my freshman year, I've just been learning fullback and tailback. Whenever I study with the fullbacks I also learn what the tailback has to do. So it's not that hard for me.
"When the [Bucs'] rookies came in I would just sit in there with them and just watch and learn, just see what Coach Art [Valero] was telling them. I'd pick it up, write it down and just learn from it. The more you can do, the better it is…that's what I've been told."
That's an obvious but important truth. Davis can see as well as any observer that the Bucs have good depth in their offensive backfield at the moment. It's not unfair to say that he faced an uphill battle for a roster spot when training camp began. But the more ways a player can make himself valuable to the team, the more reason he gives the decision-makers to keep him around. Gruden has said on more than one occasion that the club is looking for the best 53-man team, not necessarily the best 53 players.
"I'll play anywhere," said Davis. "Wherever they need me. If they need me to come in and play fullback, I'll do that. If I don't take a snap at tailback next week, that's fine with me. If I'm on the field – special teams, whatever it takes – I'm willing to do it."
Of course, Davis wouldn't mind another chance to prove he can run the ball, and he may just get the opportunity. The Bucs didn't use Williams much in the preseason last year, and that was before he had an NFL season under his belt. If the Bucs look to Davis to handle a portion of the rushing load again next week, he'll be thrilled.
"I just want the opportunity to be able to do it again and show that I can continue to do it," he said. "I think I did pretty well but I have to do it again next week. It can't be just a one-week thing. I have to go out next week and prove I can do it again."
The bottom line, as sprinkled into the conversation by Davis: "It's always fun to run the ball."
Bring on the fun.
"I just learned to be prepared, not have any missed assignments, run hard and hold on to the ball," he said. Everything else will fall into place."