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This spring, Carl Davis showed a side of himself that everyone Iowa waited to see.
This spring Carl Davis was a Man-Bear-Man.
The 6-5, 315-pound junior defensive tackle wreaked havoc up the middle of the Iowa offense in 1s vs. 1s of the spring game. When it was over, the Sterling Heights, Mich., native had three sacks and two batted down passes. The one caveat with his performance was that it happened in the A gap between new guard Jordan Walsh and new center Austin Blythe. Still, it was an impressive effort, one that perhaps marks Davis as a player on the rise for 2013.
Davis was named a preseason second-team all-Big Ten in Phil Steele's College Football Preview. That's a pretty big move for Davis, who's had surgeries on a kneecap that snapped out of place after his freshman season. He enters '13 with 16 career tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. It's a short resume, but it's a giant player who earned positive reviews from coaches and teammates all spring.
"You can just see that he's very aggressive," outside linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "He's fast for his size. He knows defenses well. So expect big things from him this season. I have so much trust in Big Carl, I have so much faith in Big Carl, and I know that he can get the job done."
Key 2012 factor: Davis started seeing the field as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Then, he disappeared in the last five games. Later, as the Hawkeyes geared up for spring 2012, coach Kirk Ferentz said Davis was out after having knee surgery.
Here are the details: "I had my kneecap pop out of place twice," Davis said last August. "I had that fixed. Everything went well. As you can see, I'm still running around here full speed."
The first time it happened was last August during a one-on-one drill in practice. The second time was during the season."My foot was kind of in and I was kind of leaning out," Davis said. "It [his right kneecap] went out and back in place, popped out and popped back in. It was quick. It was painful, but I got through it."
So yeah, Davis had a healthy 2012. He didn't ring up huge numbers, but he got used to the game. If this spring was indicative of the value of that, perhaps Davis can ring up numbers in 2013.
Offseason factor: Davis seemed much quicker, faster this spring. When he found himself on the backside of plays, he trailed downfield, and that's kind of huge, a 315-pound DT getting his hat to the ball.
"I know when some people look at me they see me as a big player and they think usually big plug guys," he said. "I can do that, and I feel like I'm quick on my feet and I can make pass-rush moves and do anything a 260-pound end would do."
Ferentz keeps things tethered in reality when it comes to player potential speak. Even he offered a mostly sunny forecast for Davis '13.
"Carl really hasn't played that many snaps from the line of scrimmage," Ferentz said. "He clearly has taken steps this spring. He's a big guy who's capable. He's got a great attitude. He's starting to develop the confidence it takes to play successfully. There's nobody to hand a player that. They've got to go out and earn that."
There's really not much more to say after that.
Competition: It's potential right now, but Iowa has 620 pounds of left defensive tackle potential in Davis and redshirt freshman Jaleel Johnson. These are bonafide DT bodies. These are the bodies that win schools conference titles. Davis has a short resume. Johnson hasn't played a down. So, for now, it's 620 pounds (both are listed 310 in the media guide) of DT potential.
Plan on Iowa rotating D-linemen. Right now, that will include Davis and Johnson.
Why No. 14?: Davis has the kind of body that helps schools win conference titles. That also happens to be the kind of body that plays in the NFL. (No, this is not a "is he or isn't he" leaving early for the NFL comment. Davis has the essential genetics. It's a fact.)
"I'm confident I can get there," he said. "But you've got to take the necessary steps right now.
"I've got to work. I talk to guys like (former Hawkeye/current Green Bay Packer defensive end) Mike Daniels. Before this spring started he was just telling me 'You've got to work for it. Nothing comes to you.' That's a guy I keep in touch with, and he helps me out mentally."
Outlook: The keyword here is consistency. Davis has had periods in his career where he's flashed ability and has been a disruptive force. It just hasn't been prolonged, at least not until the April spring game at Kinnick Stadium.
"Carl has really some special abilities," defensive line coach Reese Morgan said, "and I tell you what's really nice is, he's really buying into things. He's working harder.
"He's improving more, but it doesn't come consistently. When you have a bigger guy that's working and we are going up against uptempo offenses and we tell them, when the ball takes off, you run; all of the things we are asking him to do are a little bit out of his comfort zone."
But . . . "I think he's really going to be an excellent player for us, I really do."