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VOL. 41 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 24, 2017

Titans willing to let Davis learn on the job

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Davis

One of the most anticipated aspects of this Tennessee Titans season was how much of an impact rookie wide receiver Corey Davis could have in his first season.

Ten games into the 16-game season, we still don’t know.

Granted, when a player is drafted in the first round, he is expected to come in, play right away, make a solid contribution and show steady improvement.

You need look no further than the Titans’ other first-round pick – cornerback Adoree’ Jackson – to see the maturation process at work in a rookie. Jackson has steadily improved as a cover corner this season, has gotten better with his decision-making on special teams and even has made a contribution the past couple of weeks as a gadget player on offense.

That is the learning curve at work for a high draft pick in the NFL level.

Under normal circumstances, Davis, who was taken fifth overall (13 picks ahead of Jackson) should be making a more-consistent contributor to the Titans at this juncture, as well.

But the situation with Davis is far from normal. Davis flashes the physical skills necessary to be a difference-maker on the offense, but it’s easy to see that the valuable time he has missed throughout the off-season, training camp, preseason and the first half of the regular season has stunted his growth as a player for the time being.

“I’m just starting to get back into the flow of things, starting to get comfortable and getting better each game,” Davis says. “It’s tough. I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to learn.”

While Jackson and a number of other Titans rookies were getting valuable rep after valuable rep in the off-season, Davis was dealing with injuries that seem to have set him back.

First, he was coming off ankle surgery before the Titans even drafted him, and that cost him some OTA time. Then, a week into training camp he injured his hamstring. That cost him the entire preseason.

But when Davis caught six passes for 69 yards in the season opener against the Raiders, the missed time didn’t seem to matter. But then, in Week 2, he re-injured the hamstring, costing him five regular season games, all the way through the Titans bye week.

Since he has returned, the Titans have been allowing Davis to learn on the job, giving him lots of snaps to get up to speed. He had 39 snaps against Baltimore, then doubled that to 78 vs. Cincinnati and 54 snaps in the Titans’ struggle in Pittsburgh last Thursday.

When two passes to Davis resulted in half of Marcus Mariota’s interceptions in the loss to the Steelers, it seemed to reveal some of the damage done by the time and the reps missed in camp and the first half of the season.

And it also begs the question of whether the Titans have put too much on the rookie’s plate too quickly.

Sure, as the first receiver taken in the draft, Davis was supposed to be a plug-and-play player who could change the dynamic in the way teams defend the Titans. Despite his draft pedigree, Davis doesn’t look quite ready for that role yet – even though the Titans are force-feeding it to him.

Since his latest return from the hamstring injury, Davis has been targeted 22 times in three games and caught nine passes for 103 yards. That’s not to say that Davis won’t reach the lofty expectations placed up on him, but it is safe to say that we are now seeing the toll that the injuries have taken on his early development.

And while it was good experience for Davis (and many other young Titans) to learn what a primetime atmosphere in the NFL looks like, you have to wonder if it was too much, too soon for the heralded rookie from Western Michigan.

Maybe the Titans would have been better off easing Davis back into the mix, something they could certainly afford to do with veteran Eric Decker available.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey says the Titans haven’t overloaded Davis since his return and is willing to live with the rookie’s mistakes as the Titans head toward the home stretch of the regular season, apparently willing to sacrifice growing pains in the short term for long-range production from Davis.

“I don’t know if he’s got a month of practices in him in the NFL, maybe a little more than that,” Mularkey says. “The number of reps he’s getting is nothing but good for him.

“I don’t think we’re overloading him by any means. I think he has shown signs of doing some good things based on making some mistakes earlier, he’s not making them again. There’s nothing better than doing it and he’s getting a lot of reps to do that.”

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