Ravens' Davis finally catches on in big way

Special on kick teams, he adds 73-yarder, too

November 27, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

It's not that Billy Davis had begun to doubt his ability as a wide receiver. But by igniting the Ravens' biggest play from scrimmage a week ago, Davis presented a long-awaited reminder of the threat he could be.

The 1999 season has been a strange trip for Davis.

He signed a one-year contract with the Ravens after enjoying a breakthrough season in Dallas last year. Upon his arrival at training camp, Davis looked around at all of the young and unproven receivers and figured he had a legitimate chance to crack the starting lineup.

While players like Qadry Ismail and Justin Armour moved to the head of the class during preseason, Davis confounded himself and his coach with up-and-down performances, from one practice to the next, one game to the next, one play to the next.

Then came last week's moment in the Ravens' 34-31 victory in Cincinnati, where Davis set up a touchdown run by Errict Rhett by hooking up with Tony Banks on a 73-yard completion. Davis split the deep middle of the Bengals' zone, before catching Banks' pass in stride and taking the ball all the way to the Cincinnati 2.

That marked the longest play for the Ravens this year. Davis always knew he could produce an explosive moment like that. He just didn't think it would happen on only his third reception of 1999, during his team's 10th game.

"It wasn't a monkey off my back or some badge of courage," Davis said of his big play. "It was personal affirmation that I can still do this [play receiver] and do it well. I think the chips are finally falling in my direction."

Ravens coach Brian Billick had envisioned the chips falling Davis' way early, as in last summer. Davis had concluded his fourth season by becoming an offensive presence (39 catches, 691 yards) in Dallas, where he had established himself as a special teams force for his first three years.

But after an inconsistent training camp and preseason at receiver -- dropped passes, sloppy routes -- Davis barely found himself in the offensive game plan. He became a special teams contributor who would get eight to 10 offensive snaps a game on a good day.

To Davis' credit, he ranks second on the team with 15 special teams tackles. This is a receiver who does not mind hitting or being hit.

"If you watch [Davis] play on special teams, you see toughness isn't the problem with him. He goes in there and throws himself around," Billick said.

"The challenge is for Billy to do it on a consistent basis as a receiver. Billy is capable of the things we saw last week and the good things we saw in preseason. If he can do what he is supposed to do consistently, Billy can take that next step."

Davis seemed to take that next step with the Cowboys a year ago. After playing collegiately at Pittsburgh, Davis earned a badge of sorts making the Cowboys' roster as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1995, the only player ever to do that coming out of training camp in Dallas.

He paid his dues by finishing among the team leaders in special teams tackles for three seasons. He also worked every day in practice against the likes of cornerback Deion Sanders and among the likes of wide receiver Michael Irvin, who passed on invaluable knowledge about the position.

Last year, Davis became the top complement to Irvin with his 39 catches, three for touchdowns.

The next step should have landed him in the Ravens' receiver rotation as a starter. But here Davis sits, in a backup role, before the 11th game, with four receptions for 105 yards.

"In a perfect world, you would like to see it happen that way. But seeing my journey through Dallas and my present one with the Baltimore Ravens, we do not live in that," said Davis, 6 feet 1, 205 pounds.

"Not being able to go out and do some of the things I feel I'm pretty good at has been disappointing," he added. "But it also has taught me a valuable lesson in patience and humility. Only through adversity can you build strength. I've had an encyclopedia full of it at this point.

"It is a matter of me being consistent, of being able to make the play whenever it's called. You've seen spurts of me doing that. Once I get that opportunity [to start], I think I'll embrace it and take it by the throat."

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