Notre Dame’s Avery Davis Now Slotted To Thrive
A year ago at this time, rising senior slot and former dual-threat quarterback recruit Avery Davis appeared to be the ideal candidate for the graduate transfer portal after receiving his Notre Dame undergraduate degree.
Following his 2017 freshman stint as the scout team quarterback (he passed for 2,876 yards and 37 touchdowns, plus ran for 369 his senior year at Cedar Hill (Texas) High), Davis shifted to cornerback the next spring, transitioned to running back in the preseason and relocated to wideout the following year.
Talk about a position-identity crisis.
“I would be lying if I sit here and said it was sunshine and rainbows this whole time,” reflected Davis following Notre Dame’s initial spring practice this Saturday. “There were definitely dog days — days where I was, ‘What’s going on? Where am I going to be?'
“From a comfort aspect you’re not really able to set your mind on a specific task and grow at it because there’s such unevenness, so much uncertainty.”
No matter where Davis was stationed — quarterback, corner, running back and receiver — there were too many other established players for him to crack even the two deep.
“Every day it was a battle for about my first two or three years,” he said. “Every day was like a constant having to reset my mind. When I got up to go to work, I had something to think about: ‘This is going to probably be a tough day’ — especially when I was playing defense.
“It was like, ‘This is going to be a tough day because I’m so far behind everybody else.’ Everybody else was recruited to play the position they chose to play. That was really tough for me.”
Lo and behold, here it is one spring later and Davis is one of the four established starters returning on Notre Dame’s 2021 offense, joining senior offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson (sidelined this spring while recovering from November foot surgery), junior running back Kyren Williams and sophomore tight end Michael Mayer.
Among the returning wide receivers or slot players, the fifth-year senior Davis is easily the top statistical performer from last year after settling in as the top man at slot. He finished the season with 24 catches for 322 yards and two scores. No other returning Fighting Irish wideout snared more than seven passes in 2020.
With two-year starter Chris Finke having graduated, Davis’s comfort level rose when he seized the starting role that August and maintained it while junior Lawrence Keys III had a litany of health setbacks during the season.
In the hard-fought opening-game 27-13 victory versus Duke, it was Davis’ leaping 17-yard touchdown grab in traffic in the end zone during the fourth quarter that sealed the Irish victory and provided him the necessary confidence that he can excel in meaningful game situations, not just in practice.
“Being able to know that I’m in the slot … I was able to put a lot of energy into it, lot of work ethic, lot of film study, so I’m going to excel at the position,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to growing that.”
It was on Nov. 7 versus then-No. 1 Clemson that Davis stepped into the national spotlight. In the closing minute of regulation time with the Irish trailing 33-26, his 53-yard catch of an Ian Book toss set up his four-yard touchdown grab on third down with 22 seconds remaining and an eventual Irish triumph in double overtime that propelled them into the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.
Having been a quarterback, Davis can appreciate what signal-callers want.
“Most of the time I feel like I know what they’re looking for in a specific route or a timing aspect, where I need to be,” Davis said. “We can kind of go deeper into it, we can talk coverages and looks. … It’s kind of like a more clear conversation when I talk with quarterbacks.”
Where Davis is striving to continue to make impact is in yards after catch (YAC), especially because of his position at slot. Per Pro Football Focus, Davis last year averaged 8.0 yards gained after a reception, which was 19th nationally among receivers targeted at least 30 times.
“In the slot, a lot of your routes sometimes aren’t too deep but kind of like five-yard routes, quick hitters … that’s something I want to improve, make the first guy miss,” said the 5-11, 202-pound Davis.
Given that he is still learning so many nuances as a receiver, Davis believes his best days at the position await, particularly when chemistry is developed with Book’s successor, whoever it will be.
“The biggest thing for me is understanding how to read defenses like mid-snap, not pre-snap,” Davis said. “… When the ball is snapped it’s hard for me to realize what I’m doing mid-route, get in and out of breaks and cuts.
“It’s a little early to say that right now, but I think I’m going to play a significant role in this offense and my role will expand … I feel like a lot more plays could be made.”
Just being the elder statesman among the wideouts now is a victory unto itself.
“I never would have predicted that, especially coming in 2017,” Davis said. “If someone had told me that, I would have told them they’re foolish.”
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