GREEN BAY — Trevor Davis was so sure that he could be the Green Bay Packers’ primary punt returner — and so desperate to prove he was capable of doing it — that the second-year wide receiver went to unprecedented lengths this offseason to convince special teams coordinator Ron Zook that he was the man for the job.
While the players were away from Lambeau Field during the five-week break between the offseason program and the start of training camp, Davis enlisted the help of an ex-college punter buddy and another friend to serve as videographer. Then the threesome went to San Jose State’s campus — Davis was born in nearby San Francisco and played college football at Cal Berkeley — and recorded Davis catching punt after punt after punt. Then, they sent the film clips to Zook.
“Which really impressed me,” Zook said. “He worked on it, and he’s the first guy in the National Football League that’s ever sent me video of him catching the ball. So he’s worked on it, he knows it’s important and he’s come a long, long, long way. I feel very, very confident with him catching punts. Catching anything, really.”
Zook’s comments were prior to Thursday night’s preseason victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. But as impressed as Zook had been by Davis’ YouTube-quality video snippets, they didn’t showcase exactly what Davis was capable of with the ball in his hands as did his 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half of the Packers’ 24-9 victory over the Eagles. For good measure, Davis added a 26-yard punt return later in the game.
“It felt great,” Davis said. “I’ve been waiting on it for a long time. Just seeing the work (this offseason) work out (is rewarding). And it was really a testament to Zook and the return team that we have. We’ve been working on it a lot because we knew we had a chance. They executed it perfectly.”
Davis caught the ball cleanly — despite having a would-be tackler rushing past him — then broke to his right toward the sideline. Punter Donnie Jones had a good angle on him but Davis turned on his speed — before the draft last year, he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and 4.27 seconds at his pro day — and scored easily.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy praised not only Davis but the return unit as a whole, saying, “We were able to set the wall and Trevor, he did an outstanding job, not only getting vertical but finishing it when he bounced outside and made the punter miss and scored a touchdown. Well-executed play and a great return.”
Davis hasn’t won the job yet, however.
The Packers experimented with him as the punt returner as a rookie fifth-round pick last season, and while he averaged 12.8 yards on nine returns — including a 55-yarder against Atlanta on Oct. 30 that set up his first career NFL touchdown reception shortly thereafter — his fumbled punt on Nov. 13 at Tennessee was the last time he saw the field as a returner.
His playing time dwindled thereafter, and he was inactive or did not play in four of the team’s final five regular-season games and was inactive for the playoff opener against the New York Giants.
Davis suited up for the team’s NFC Divisional win over Dallas and for the season-ending NFC Championship Game loss at Atlanta but did not catch a pass.
“You just have to put things behind you,” Davis said. “You’ve got to learn from it, and I definitely learned from that.”
Now, Davis’ focus is forward. While his punt return work surely helped his case for a roster spot — if Davis can prove himself capable, the Packers wouldn’t have to use Randall Cobb, one of their top receivers, in that role — Davis is still in a battle. The Packers drafted a pair of wide receivers last April (DeAngelo Yancey in the fifth round and Malachi Dupre in the seventh round), plus have Jeff Janis, Geronimo Allison and Max McCaffrey — all of whom were on the 53-man roster with Davis last season — competing for spots behind Jordy Nelson, Cobb and Davante Adams.
“It’s a competition,” said Davis, who saw action in 11 regular-season games last year and finished with three receptions for 24 yards, including his 9-yard touchdown catch against the Falcons. “Anything can happen the next week or the week after that, so I don’t really focus on this as, ‘This is one preseason game and now I locked in a job.’ It’s mainly just a steppingstone — one steppingstone after another.
“I don’t think I won a job or anything like that. I’m not thinking like that at all. I mean, at the end of the day, I was just happy to help my team win. I don’t worry too much about the job security and all that. I’m just working as hard as I can to make this team and to help this team win football games.”