IOWA CITY — I don’t know if Iowa can flip its 4-8 record of 2012 to an 8-4 this year.
Don’t know if the Hawkeyes have three capable quarterbacks, or one.
Don’t know if the offense will be considerably more vertical than horizontal, something that once was a given. Don’t know how this defense will begin to fend off the likes of run-pass masters Jordan Lynch, Kain Colter and Braxton Miller.
But I know I’m looking forward to seeing what junior defensive tackle Carl Davis can do this fall, starting Aug. 31 against the Lynch-led cagey offense of Northern Illinois.
Davis already had a towering presence at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, but he looks ready to shift from potential to production. He pretty much mauled offensive guard Jordan Walsh at Iowa’s spring game Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, and was a constant irritant to each of the three quarterbacks vying to be Iowa’s starter.
Three sacks and a couple of batted-down passes made Davis the unofficial defensive MVP of the game, a 61-37 win for the offense mainly because of a scoring system tilted its way. Davis played with an enthusiasm and smile that seemed to infect the rest of his defensive teammates.
“I want to be able to do that – three sacks in a game – this fall,” Davis said.
For a team with not a lot expected from its D-line, maybe it just takes Davis to cause disruption up front to start to set off a positive change in the entire unit’s performance. That’s oversimplifying and putting way too much on one guy, of course, especially one who has yet to make a college start. But Hawkeye linebacker Christian Kirksey likes what he has witnessed in front of him on the practice field this spring.
“You can just see that he’s very aggressive,” Kirksey said. “He’s fast for his size. He knows defenses well. So expect big things from him this season.
“I have so much trust in Big Carl, I have so much faith in Big Carl, and I know that he can get the job done.”
Davis doesn’t offer the same salesmanship when the subject is him, but you could have sensed his developing confidence even if he hadn’t offered the following statements:
“I’m comfortable. I know the defense now. … It’s all about work. It started in the winter phase in the weight room and I’m just trying to progress. Hopefully I can take this over to the season.”
What Davis was as a redshirt freshman was hurt. His right kneecap was dislocated in August 2011 and again late in the season. He had surgery after the Insight Bowl. Last year, he was tentative. Thus, he wasn’t really much of a contributor to a defensive line that really could have used contributions.
Davis called returning from injury “a mental block for me. I was nervous getting around piles and stuff like that. Now, I just play.
“I just had to get over it. I feel like I’ve overcome it. I don’t have any braces any more. I’m just running around now.”
Three days earlier, Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan didn’t downplay what he’s seen from Davis this spring.
“Carl has really some special abilities,” Morgan said, “and I tell you what’s really nice is, he’s really buying into things. He’s working harder.
“He’s improving more, but it doesn’t come consistently. When you have a bigger guy that’s working and we are going up against uptempo offenses and we tell them, when the ball takes off, you run; all of the things we are asking him to do are a little bit out of his comfort zone.”
But … “I think he’s really going to be an excellent player for us, I really do.”
Yes, it was just a spring game, and spring-game stardom fades faster than a sunset. But Davis’ combination of sacks and bat-downs Saturday suggested he has an honest-to-goodness skill set.
“I know when some people look at me they see me as a big player and they think usually big plug guys,” he said. “I can do that, and I feel like I’m quick on my feet and I can make pass-rush moves and do anything a 260-pound end would do.”
There’s probably something about an NFL Draft weekend that puts some bounce in the step of a collegiate upperclassman, too. Davis already has the NFL size. If he attaches some good game film to it, well …
“I’m confident I can get there,” he said. “But you’ve got to take the necessary steps right now.
“I’ve got to work. I talk to guys like (former Hawkeye/current Green Bay Packer defensive end) Mike Daniels. Before this spring started he was just telling me ‘You’ve got to work for it. Nothing comes to you.’ That’s a guy I keep in touch with, and he helps me out mentally.”
Iowa, like virtually any football team, has only been a winner when it got standout defensive play up front. If D-line players don’t emerge this fall, it’s another long season. If Davis and/or others do, the conversation can start to change.
“Carl really hasn’t played that many snaps from the line of scrimmage,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “He clearly has taken steps this spring. He’s a big guy who’s capable. He’s got a great attitude. He’s starting to develop the confidence it takes to play successfully. There’s nobody to hand a player that. They’ve got to go out and earn that.”
“I love coming to practice,” Davis said. “I can’t say I was like that my freshman and sophomore years. This spring, it was great.”