METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport wears new diamond studs on his nose and ears and speaks with an easy, confident manner about meeting the expectations of a first-round draft choice in his second pro season.
If he succeeds, the combination of the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Davenport and accomplished fellow end Cameron Jordan could cause considerable concern for quarterbacks.
"Right now, I'm more confident than I've ever been," Davenport said after a recent training camp practice. "Confidence comes from the truth. I've got to understand what kind of player I am. It was definitely a good offseason for me to get back to that and understand what I can (do) and what I haven't done yet."
The Saints traded up, dealing away their original 2019 first-round pick to take Davenport 14th overall in 2018 out of mid-major program UTSA.
Davenport had 4½ sacks last season — well below the 10 or more expected from elite pass rushers, but a promising total in light of the fact he often split playing time with veteran Alex Okafor and his rookie season was slowed by a nagging toe injury that cost him three games.
"I was thinking too much," Davenport said. "At a certain point, it's just football and it should be fun. I think I let too much of the media and just all around people influence me, and I've got to play my game."
Okafor has since left the Saints in free agency, giving the 22-year-old Davenport an opening to take on a more prominent role.
Davenport sounds intent on approaching his opportunity in a methodical, disciplined and analytical way.
He deflects questions about sack goals by saying his mindset is: "Defeat the blocks; the sacks will come."
In addition to more traditional work in the weight room to add lower-body strength, he has been practicing yoga in an effort to enhance mobility and flexibility, particularly around his hips. His goal is to improve his ability to bend around offensive linemen after putting them off balance with his power and his hands. He said his offseason workouts were designed to make him "faster and more fluid."
"You can see visually the work that he's put in and it's carrying over on the football field," defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen said after practice Tuesday. "He's knocking the line of scrimmage back."
"When you come in to a play and it's brand new, you're learning what they expect of you — how to do it, where to be and where to go. Sometimes it's a lot for a young guy," Nielsen said. "So now he knows all of that. So, all we're doing now is coaching our fundamentals and technique on beating blocks."
Nielsen said he has seen Davenport make the transition from simply focusing on staying in his assigned gap to being able to shed blocks and help plug his neighboring, secondary gap when the ball carrier goes that way.
Davenport often lines up against starting left tackle Terron Armstead in practice. A year ago at this time, Armstead had his way with Davenport. Not as much now. Davenport has been refining a signature move he calls a "bob swipe," in which he feigns his regular bull rush to induce his blocker to brace for a power move, and then suddenly uses a bob-step and arm swipe to bend around his blocker. He says his aim is to use it selectively, "like an ace."
Davenport and Armstead often talk between plays, with the left tackle telling the young defensive end what he's doing well and which mistakes to avoid. And Davenport credits Armstead for caring more about winning games than winning practice snaps.
Meanwhile, Nielsen said Davenport has been fortunate to have Jordan, a 2017 All-Pro and eight-year veteran, playing the other defensive end spot. During games, offenses focus more on Jordan, who led the Saints with 12 sacks last season. And during practice and meetings, Jordan mentors Davenport.
"It's really good that Cam's here and Marcus has that because Cam's a really good football player and he's done it all," Nielsen said.
Jordan readily compliments Davenport's progress.
"When he first got to us, he was 250 pounds. He was raw, talented. Still trying to pick up the game," Jordan said. "I mean, he's still picking up the game, but he's done it at such a rapid pace. ... Coming back healthy this year, you see how explosive he can be. You see the talents that he possesses, the ability that he has. He can create some havoc and that's all you're looking for."
Davenport started to compare his relationship with Jordan to "Batman and Robin" when he suddenly stopped himself, saying, "That's lame; I don't want to be Robin."
And that's exactly what the Saints want to hear.
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