With their first pick of the seventh round last year, the Hawks took a flier on an undersized but athletic defensive end out of Arizona State named Dexter Davis. At 6'1", 245, he doesn't fit the normal body type of a speed rush defensive end, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed. At the combine, he ran a 4.62 40, which was best among all DEs and his short shuttle time of 4.3 was good for 8th best. While many thought in the NFL he'd make the move to OLB, the Hawks drafted him to play the LEO position in their 4-3 defense.
When Carroll took the reins this past offseason, he and Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley sat down and looked at some film to see what they could do to improve their pass rush. They determined that they needed to get quicker, more mobile guys edge rushing to get to the QB faster. When Eric Williams caught up with him last year, Bradley said this of the pass rush situation, and specifically the new "LEO/elephant" role:
"It gives you some flexibility. Sometimes you can use an elephant, and he has the ability where maybe you can go a little lighter-type defensive linemen, because he's usually away from the tight end. And it gives him a little more ability to pass rush. It's a fun spot for those guys."
"It's a position that can take on different sizes and shapes, but it is a spot - a little bit of a hybrid position - that is kind of a linebacker, kind of a defensive end, we picture it as a speed-oriented guy."
"The open side Defensive End has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."
Davis recorded 31 sacks at Arizona State so you know he's got a nose for the QB. He's got some great intangibles that help him to rush the passer. He's got a good motor. He's got good strength and knows how to use leverage because of his days wrestling in HS (2 time state champion). His upper body strength and balance come from years doing discus and shot-put in track, where he was a regional champion in high school. In addition to that, he's very durable, having started every game four years in a row during his college career, and he was named a captain his senior year.
Rob Rang, who does excellent draft profiles for CBS Sports, put together a great skillset review for Davis prior to him being drafted. Here's part of what he said:
"Tackling: Forceful tackler that can separate the ball from the ball-carrier. Has forced 8 fumbles over his career, most when coming off the edge and exploding into the quarterback. Strong, active hands to rip the ball out. Arrives with a thud and likes to intimidate his opponents. Good hustle in pursuit for the tackle from behind. Better than expected strength to slip off blocks and bring down the ball-carrier with one arm. A bit bulked up and has only marginal overall agility. Struggles a bit in breaking down in space to tackle smaller, more elusive ball-carriers.
Pass Rush/Blitz: His best asset. Explosive burst off the edge as pass rusher with his hand in the ground. Can pressure the tackle's outside shoulder and features a swim and quick spin back to the inside. Good strength and natural use of leverage to rock the tackle back on his heels. Good forceful shove to separate and can close on the passer quickly when he gets a lane. Lacks the flexibility of the great pass rushers to get under the tackle, bend and close."
I got a chance to look at a little tape of Davis from this past season. He didn't play a ton; mostly 3rd down packages, special teams, and garbage time in blowouts. I picked a few games to look at and recorded some notes on plays that he was involved in.
Week 1 vs San Fran
(3:40 1st Q) F.Gore up the middle to SEA 44 for 3 yards (D.Davis, B.Mebane). (3rd and 1)
Davis lined up on the weak side in a three point stance. Vernon Davis motions left and covers up Davis on the left side of the line of scrimmage. Ball is snapped, the RT pulls left across the line and comes to block Davis. Davis sniffs out the inside run, slips the block attempt by the tackle and the fullback, and hits Gore just past the line, driving him into the ground. Displays good instincts on the play and recognizes it will be an inside run, slips his blockers, and makes the play.
(0:38 4th Q) A.Smith sacked at SF 29 for -7 yrds (D.Davis)
Davis lines up on the weak side, 3 point stance. 49ers in shotgun formation. Ball is snapped, Davis breaks out of his stance, gives the RT a quick inside juke then uses his speed to just go around him. Smith fails to step up into the pocket quick enough and Davis uses his quickness and size to get a low angle, to get past his blocker and right to Smith. A good sack.
(12:22 2nd Q) J.Ryan punts 45 yards to SF 47, Center-C.Gresham. T.Ginn to SEA 37 for 16 yards (D.Davis).
Only include this play because Dexter Davis just lights up T.Ginn comin up the middle. Just flat backs him. Davis, for his part, did a great job contributing on special teams this year. I won't be reviewing all his special teams plays, but I do remember seeing him play with a lot of tenacity and come up with some big hits.
Week 9 vs NYG
(3:51 1st Q) A.Koets reported in as eligible. B.Jacobs right tackle to SEA 49 for 4 yards (D.Davis, L.Tatupu).
Davis lined up on the right. Giants run an even, two-tight end set. Manning takes the snap, Davis jumps to the outside of Kevin Boss to pass rush, sees the run, manhandles Boss by pushing him to the outside. Boss' block is blown, Davis now has the inside, can make the tackle, but is dragged about 4 yrds after initial contact. This can be attributed to two things: one, Dexter Davis is a bit undersized to be playing defensive end. Two, the RB he was trying to tackle was Brandon Jacobs. Overall, Davis shows good instincts and does a good job getting off his block. He didn't tackle well enough on the play though.
Week 14 at San Fran
(6:49 4th Q) A.Dixon right end to SF 43 for -2 yards (D.Davis).
Davis lines up weakside left. The Niners line up with a two tightend set right, snap, and attempt a pitch sweep. The sweep takes too long to develop and get downfield and Davis runs all the way across the field to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage. A good (ish) play by Davis, demonstrating a nose for the ball, quick burst towards the ball carrier, and good pursuit. He was not blocked at all though, so more credit goes to the guys lined up on the right side of the line as they did a good job containing the sweep.
(6:09 4th Q) A.Smith scrambles for 11.
The next play... Not so good for Davis. Davis is lined up weakside right, the ball is snapped. They fake the strongside toss to the RB and Smith bootlegs to what looks like a broken play. Davis has the chance to blow him up, coming off the end unblocked, but Alex Smith jukes him and runs past him for 10 yards or so. Davis ends the play shaking his head because he knows he should have broken down and made the tackle.
(1:53 4th Q) A.Dixon left tackle to SF 25 for 1 yard (D.Davis; L.Milloy).
Davis, 3 pt stance, weakside left. Ball is snapped, the run is to the left. Davis sees the handoff, stands up his blocker, disengages the block, and makes the tackle.
From what I saw of him, Davis played pretty solidly. He does appear undersized but as Carroll noted size isn't the main concern; speed is, and he seems to be pretty fleet afoot. I didn't really see him playing any "stand-up rover" type end but we saw Clemons in a 3-point stance at times too so I suppose the Hawks are a little flexible with their LEO in terms of playing down or standup on the end.
For a 7th Round draft pick, I think that Davis brings a lot to the table. He played in 15 games, and came up with 13 tackles and a sack. A good start for him, a good start for any 7th rounder, and I think he has a potentially bright future with the Hawks if they can find a some snaps for him. It's up to the coaching staff to try and plug him into passing downs and situations that play to his strengths, and I think he can contribute for this defense.
In Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, KJ Wright, and even Aaron Curry, the Hawks have a lot of options at the DE/OLB position and can move some people around and see what sticks. Raheem Brock could be brought back as well. It will be interesting to see what kind of formations the Hawks use in 2011 with Red Bryant back in the mix at the 5-tech.