AUBURN, Ala. — Early in fall camp, it appeared Auburn redshirt freshman defensive back Javaris Davis would get his wish.
Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele listed three probable starters including Davis in the group. Then the unexpected happened. Jamel Dean, a redshirt freshman among the trio, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second week of August camp, and Davis realized his own role had been magnified.
Now Davis will be a starter in an Auburn defense facing high expectations. The defensive back is mindful that opponents will target him, but he knows that after preparing for a year, he can handle anything thrown his way.
When Davis arrived at Auburn, Will Muschamp was the Tigers’ defensive coordinator and Travaris Robinson (Davis’ primary recruiter) was the defensive backs coach (both are now at South Carolina). Davis spent the year learning from those coaches, who were determined to turn around Auburn’s defense following a disappointing 2014.
Though Davis didn’t play, he studied freshmen defensive backs Carlton Davis and Jeremiah Dinson from the sideline and listened to their advice.
“It was a very humbling experience,” Davis said. “It really helped me mature more. It got me better. It got me bigger. It got me stronger. (Watching those two) That helped me tremendously, because they’re my two main cats. I’d be around them a lot. I talked to them after every game, and they would just tell me to stay focused and just keep working. Eventually, I knew I was going to be out there. I just had to get ready.”
When the offseason rolled around, Davis set out to improve one of his greatest strengths: his speed. At Ed White High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Davis was a state runner-up in the 100-meter run and 4×100 relay. He wanted to get even quicker.
He worked with Auburn’s strength coach Ryan Russell through the summer, and posted a blazing 40-yard dash time (4.18) in April. When fall arrived, Davis received praise from every direction. Teammates and coaches consistently proclaimed him the fastest player on the roster.
“Javaris, his confidence level (increased). He was extremely talented, even last year when we redshirted him,” Gus Malzahn said. “He had a great spring, he’s more confident, he can really run. He’s super-fast, probably our fastest guy.”
Davis’ speed was obnoxious during preseason camp. He figured out how to translate his speed to the field, improving his technique and recovering faster if he made a mistake. Senior wide receiver Marcus Davis often encountered the challenge.
“He nag you a lot. That guy, he can run,” (Marcus) Davis said. “He can give you a little extra at the line, because he know he can run with you. It’s always good to go against him because he’s a competitive guy. He’s always around the ball.”
Davis recognizes that he’s gotten quicker and stronger, but also has identified areas in which he can improve. At 5-foot-8, battling bigger receivers can be a challenge and Davis wants to focus on defending deep balls. He believes he can can be more disciplined.
He also welcomes the input of experienced teammates like senior Joshua Holsey, who sometimes tells Davis what a receiver’s next move will be (the veteran usually is correct) before a play unfolds. He dedicates extra time to film and preparation. But Davis’ biggest edge going into this season could be his cognizance.
“I feel like it’s all in the mind,” Davis said. “It’s a mindset. I just stick to what my coaches are telling me and stick to my technique. I’m finally getting an opportunity. I’m just trying to take advantage of it and just do what the coaches ask and just do my job. I feel like I have a lot to prove this year. I’m just thankful for my opportunity. I just have to do my best.”