Friday, August 08, 2008

Cowboys' talent everywhere, including the offensive line

By Bob Buttitta (Contact)
Friday, August 8, 2008

When you're the No. 2 overall player picked in the NFL draft like Leonard Davis was in 2001, expectations run high.

During his six years with the Arizona Cardinals, Davis was a steady performer. He started 94 games, including all 16 his rookie year when he was a consensus all-rookie selection.

When asked to move from right guard to right tackle and then switch again to left tackle, Davis did so without complaint. During the 2006 season he was part of an offensive line that helped pave the way for Edgerrin James to become Arizona's first 1,000-yard rusher since Adrian Murrell in 1998.

Yet after that season, the Cardinals decided Davis hadn't lived up to his draft status, so they released the former University of Texas star, telling everyone it was because he was an underachiever.

Knowing how rare is to get a player with Davis' talent dumped into the street, Dallas owner Jerry Jones quickly snatched up Davis, who became one of the highest- profile offensive linemen ever signed by the team.

Coming home proved to be a good fit for the Texas native, as the 6-foot-6, 353-pound Davis turned in a spectacular 2007 campaign, highlighted by his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

"At Arizona they said I underachieved, but personally I can't understand how I underachieved," Davis said. "I could understand it if I was getting the quarterback hit all the time or missing blocks. In my opinion, it was a lot of unrealistic expectations.

"There are a lot of other guys in this league who are 350 pounds and there are no high expectations for them. I personally know what I can do, and what I am capable of doing. As long as I am playing up to the expectations of my coaches and teammates, then anyone else I don't care about."

Coach Wade Phillips is thrilled to have Davis anchoring the right side of his offensive line. The Cowboys knew what kind of physical specimen Davis was when they signed him, but over the course of last season they discovered how agile and athletic he is.

"He's a real football player that can dominate a lot of areas, but he's settled in at right guard for us because that's where we need him," Phillips said. "He pulls so well, and I was talking to Jason (Garrett, offensive coordinator) about that yesterday. You don't realize it until you're around him a lot.

"He can help you on either side because of his agility, even though he's got the great size and strength and he has really good movements. We're going to try to utilize him pulling him a little bit more this year because we've found out that's what he can do besides just dominate a two-technique or a defensive tackle. He can pull and help us on off-tackle plays and even outside plays."

Davis spent the last few years in Arizona playing left tackle, so last season he not only had to learn a new offensive system he also had to readjust to playing on the inside.

With those adjustments now behind him, Davis believes this camp is more about refining his technique and getting a better grip of his role in this offensive scheme.

While showing in Arizona he is capable of playing tackle at this level, Davis believes he's a much better fit inside.

That's because he is able to use his size and strength to neutralize the bigger, slower defensive tackles and noseguards he's asked to block on the inside, rather than having to face a smaller, quicker speed rusher on the outside.

While physically imposing, Davis is a soft-spoken, kind-hearted person who is one of the most well-liked players on the Cowboys roster.

Having grown up in Texas, Davis was thrilled to have the opportunity to come home and play for the team he rooted for as a kid.

"It's an honor to play for team like this, one that is all about winning," Davis said. "Coming from Texas, it's where you want to be. The opportunity to move came and I am enjoying it."

As for his first trip to the Pro Bowl, Davis said it's really not that big a deal because he said those type of honors come with being part of a winning team, something he didn't have until coming to Dallas.

"The Pro Bowl was one of those deals where I made it and now I just move on," Davis said. "The only thing I am thinking about is winning the Super Bowl. It's the main reason I came here."