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WR Corey Davis Making Strides as Rookie Season Progresses

Posted Nov 29, 2017

Titans wide receiver Corey Davis has been slowed by ankle and hamstring injuries, but is still among the league's top rookie pass-catchers. Teammates and coaches say they've seen improvement in his game since he returned to the lineup against Baltimore.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On a screen pass to Eric Decker against Indianapolis last Sunday, rookie wide receiver Corey Davis failed to execute his assigned block, resulting in a pick-up of just two yards for Decker.

One series later, however, Davis made a tremendous 19-yard catch over the middle, a huge step in the Titans' game-winning touchdown drive.

Such is the first-year roller coaster of life for the talented Davis, who was the fifth overall pick in the draft last April.

He's still learning more than he'd prefer at this stage, the result of missing much of the Titans' OTAs, all four preseason games and five of the team's first 11 regular-season contests.

But Davis continues to offer glimpses of what the future could hold, whether it's through out-battling Colts defensive back Kenny Moore for that critical fourth-quarter catch or through the handful of high-jumping, toe-tapping sideline receptions he's made.

Heading into Sunday's game against Houston, Davis has produced 20 catches, the fifth-highest total among the league's rookie wide receivers. He's played just six games, while the four rookies ahead of him – Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams (46 catches), Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster (33), San Francisco's Trent Taylor (26) and Buffalo's Zay Jones (23) – have all played at least 10 contests.

“I know how much of an uphill battle it is for a young rookie receiver because I've had them before,” said Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, who was Atlanta's wide receivers coach when Julio Jones broke into the league in 2011 with 54 catches.

“I know it's a fight because those guys come in and everybody thinks they're going to be great tomorrow. Corey is going to be a great wide receiver in the NFL and will probably be one for a long time … This (will be the seventh) game of his NFL career. So he's still got a lot to learn. He's still got a ways to go.”

“Hanging in your hip pocket”

It's no easy task to make a big impact as an NFL rookie wide receiver.

Just ask the L.A. Chargers' Mike Williams, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, who has nine catches in six games. Just ask Cincinnati's John Ross, the ninth overall pick, who's yet to record a single reception.

“The first thing (a rookie wide receiver learns) is how physical the game is, because you're going against guys that are always going to beat you up, and they're always going to be hanging in your hip pocket,” Robiskie said. “They've got to learn the speed of the game. We always say if you get a step, you're open, because that's about all you're going to get in the NFL. No matter how wide open you think you are, there's a guy somewhere reaching for the ball, punching it, trying to take it.”

The Titans' Delanie Walker, a tight end, recalls a different challenge being his greatest as a rookie.

“I would say the coverages, reading coverages,” Walker said. “Knowing where to be in certain positions. That can be hard for a rookie.”

Said Davis: “I'm still adjusting (to reading coverages), but I'm getting more comfortable with the plays. It's just kind of a feel thing. You actually have to play football to get back into the flow of things, but I'm feeling pretty good.”

Davis did play in his fourth straight game last Sunday, an encouraging sign for a player that missed so much time due to ankle and hamstring injuries.

But he's still making up ground from having to sit and watch for long stretches.

Wide receiver Eric Decker also missed almost of the preseason due to an ankle injury, but he explained that time missed is even more difficult on a rookie like Davis than on a veteran.

“Yeah, for sure, I've been around enough games in the league that I know what it's about,” Decker said. “So I understand coverages, I understand timing, all the things that take experience. You can't replace experience. But (Davis) is in his first year. He didn't have much time in the offseason to kind of build that relationship with Marcus (Mariota) and just get the reps on offense.”

“A force to be reckoned with”

It didn't take long for Davis to make his mark when he returned from a five-game injury absence last month.

In his first game back in the lineup, Davis sprinted down the right sideline and went high in the air to snare a 23-yard, back-shoulder pass, one that would lead to a Titans touchdown against Baltimore.

He's posted 13 of his 20 catches in the four games since returning to the lineup, and the fact that Mariota continues to look for him – Davis' 6.5 targets per game this season are just behind Walker (7.0) and Rishard Matthews (6.8) – is a promising sign.

“He has all the confidence in the world in me, he trusts me,” Davis said of Mariota. “He puts the ball in the right spot and definitely makes my job easier. I've got to make him look good.”

Teammates and coaches alike say they have seen Davis continue to make progress, despite the occasional setbacks that come with being a rookie.

“It looks to me like he's come a little further along in the route-running and that he's more into football shape now,” Robiskie said. “You see him putting his foot on the ground, and planting and cutting and doing things … He's running fast, and he's getting in and out of things fast.”

Added Walker: “He's improved his ability to run routes and attack the ball. That shows he's going to be a force to be reckoned with, once he gets his legs under him and really understands the concepts of what they want from him.”

Davis believes he's making strides as well, even as he reminds himself the growth process does take time.

“I want to make plays and I want to do whatever I can to put my team in the best position to win,” Davis said. “I know it's not all going to happen right away. It takes a lot of work and a lot of adjustment to the speed of this game. So I have to stay patient.”

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.