IOWA CITY — Carl Davis said he’s more comfortable this year, and it’s not just because he’s healthy and 30 pounds lighter.
Davis, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound sophomore defensive tackle from Detroit, saw limited action last year because of a knee injury. He’s in good spirits and feels a renewed energy around the defensive line group this preseason.
“A lot of guys have noticed it,” Davis said. “This camp is very different. It’s a different feel. I can’t really explain it. With Coach (Reese) Morgan, we are very comfortable. He’s taking his time to coach us and coach us on fundamentals. He takes his time with us and the younger guys and makes sure everybody’s got the techniques and everything.”
Davis is listed as a first-team defensive tackle despite playing in only six games and earning just two assisted tackles last year. He struggled with his fundamentals and often received one of former defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski’s notorious scoldings. Kaczenski now coaches defensive line at Nebraska.
“Coach Kaczenski, he could either lift you up or bring you down if you’re doing one of two things,” Davis said. “If he gets in your face, he could make you want to go. But if he does get in your face, some people just might want to give up. But I think that gave me a lot of mental toughness playing under him. I think he has contributed to my game.”
Only two years removed from the moniker “nation’s best defensive line,” this year’s version is long on inexperience. Neither Davis nor Louis Trinca-Pasat — the other first-team defensive tackle — have started a game or faced prolonged action.
Davis was a red-shirt when NFL draft picks Karl Klug, Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard were seniors. Davis watched how they worked and he concentrates on their movements on video year-round.
“I’ll go in there and watch Karl Klug, the great technician on the defensive line for us,” Davis said. “I just go watch what he did on his plays and how can I take some of his game and put it my game.”
Morgan, who coached Iowa’s offensive line for nine seasons before moving to defense this offseason, likes Davis’ progress. Davis had knee surgery in January and was withheld from spring drills. But he gained strength and reshaped his body in the weight room until he was healthy enough to participate in football activities.
“I think Carl’s going to be one of those good stories,” Morgan said. “Carl really had a good summer from what (strength coach) Chris (Doyle) has told us. (Davis) wasn’t able to get reps during the spring, but he was actively involved, really doing a great job of mentoring and teaching the younger guys. Consequently, when you know it so well you can teach it, you learn it better yourself.
“That being said, Carl is still in the developmental stage. He hasn’t played a lot. The grind and so forth, are really going to be a big challenge for Carl. But I think he’s going to play a key role for us.”
Davis looks for consistency as his benchmark for success. Morgan drills the fundamentals into Davis such as keeping his hands in tight and stepping with the correct foot.
“We’re trying to get better day and be perfect every day because he demands perfection,” Davis said.