Marcus Davenport has been in the books this offseason.
Not just his playbook. He’s tackled books by self-help guru Daniel Levin to become more at peace and improve his mental state. He’s read “The Art of War” to learn about combat tactics and how to attack opponents. Finally, Davenport checked out “Mind of an Athlete,” which teaches how to process their thoughts and keep their minds clean.
All of it leads to one thing, the one issue the Saints defensive end feels has held him back the last few seasons.
“Just trying to have more confidence in myself and what I know,” Davenport said. “And even growing as a person, trying to express myself in any way that I feel.”
Davenport can play football at a high level. We’ve seen flashes and even some stretches of dominance. When things come together for him, his size, power and athleticism can be overwhelming for offensive linemen. Then he’ll disappear, leaving you wanting to see more.
He understands this issue exists better than most. Davenport wants bigger numbers next to his name; he wants to feel like he’s impacting more snaps and becoming regarded as one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. But the issue isn’t so much about anything happening on the field. So much of the battle is in his mind.
When Davenport gets out on the field, he allows himself to start thinking, and thinking leads to doubt, which leads to hesitation, which leads to disappointing snaps and performances.
“Sometimes I think as people we forget simple things, and I forget sometimes that I can do things quite good,” Davenport said.
What has he forgotten?
“There’s no real need for me to hesitate,” Davenport said. “I’ve been practicing. I know the moves, and I know what to do. I got coaches here to correct me. It’s just on me to go out there and do it.”
Davenport didn’t start his season until Week 5 last season due to an elbow injury. However, when he got on the field, he made an immediate and noticeable impact. The anemic pass rush to start the season finally appeared robust. Davenport dominated people with his bull rush and consistently pushed the pocket, even if he didn’t always get his hands on the quarterback.
That quickly became a problem for him. Even though Davenport was generating pressure at a respectable rate, he started to get into his own head when those pressures didn’t turn into more meaningful statistics, and it derailed his momentum.
“I started thinking about it too much,” Davenport said. “If you really think about it, numbers will come. I’ve been working on that this year, but even then, just really about being effective and being the best at your job is all that matters. The numbers will come.”
Davenport finished last season with 1 ½ sacks and eight quarterback hits in 11 games. Those numbers paint a grim picture for a player who only has two years left on his contract and, truthfully, only one since all that’s left beyond this season is a fifth-year option. But Davenport did average more pressures per snap than Cam Jordan and ran even with Carl Granderson, who finished with five sacks last year.
There is hope and optimism that Davenport can elevate his play and become the player the team expected him to be when they invested two first-round picks into selecting him in 2018. The problem, it seems, is that Davenport is holding himself back.
But it isn’t just hesitating on the field. He has missed 11 games in three seasons due to injuries, and there seemed to be a moment of recognition on Tuesday that all the missed time is an issue that needs to change.
“You know, there’s always gonna be some things, bumps and bruises,” Davenport said. “But shoot, I know y’all seen Cam (Jordan). Cam don’t stop.”
Davenport did not get asked specifically about the pressure put on all the defensive ends when the Saints selected Payton Turner in the first round of the draft. That goes without saying. New Orleans can use as many pass rushers as it can get, but it will need a reason to pay both Davenport and Jordan huge salaries into the future – and the bar for reaching that point is now higher with Turner here on a rookie contract.
There wasn’t supposed to be this uncertainty with Davenport. He was supposed to take the team into the future and be the successor at pass rusher. He hasn’t yet achieved that mark. He can still get there, and hopefully, he finds the words in those books to help him write a new story.