FOXBORO -- After Keionta Davis folded up Eagles quarterback Joe Callahan for a sack in the waning seconds of Thursday's preseason game, he took a brief moment to himself. Rolling off of Callahan, Davis paused ever so quickly with his shoulders pinned on the turf before getting helped up.
Davis couldn't be blamed for taking a short breather for himself, if that's what it was. He played more snaps than any other Patriots defender (54) -- a rare honor for a 6-foot-3, 280-pounder -- and it wasn't all in mop-up duty.
The second-year defensive lineman started the game for the Patriots and ended it with a sack. He had 1.5 sacks on the night to go along with three more pressures and two stops in the running game.
"Coaches just wanted me to get some reps," Davis said. "I gotta play. It's that simple."
The reason Davis has to play is that he hasn't played for quite some time. For ever player who may need a workload reduction this summer after having played a lot of football in 2017, there's a player like Davis who could use the extra work to knock off the layers of rust that have accumulated.
Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga last summer. He was a two-time All-American as a menace off the edge, and his talent was enough to reportedly coax Bill Belichick to Chattanooga to put Davis through a private workout. He had 31 sacks in college and was projected to be a mid-to-late round pick last spring, but he went unclaimed due to a bulging disc in his neck that was found in a physical at the NFL Scouting Combine.
According to a story last May in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Davis had no idea anything was wrong. He finished the 2016 season as the Southern Conference defensive player of the year, and he participated in the Senior Bowl before getting the news.
The Patriots signed Davis last summer, but by the time the NFL's regular season rolled around, Davis was placed on the non-football injury/reserve list, ending his year before it began.
That's what made Thursday night all the more special for the 24-year-old. His first sack in the fourth quarter was his first since last year's Senior Bowl. In the aftermath, he clapped his hands and looked up to the sky.
"It was relief," he said. "I didn't want to celebrate. I still got work to do, man. I'm not really trying to celebrate right now . . . Let me get through the rest of camp. More work to be done."
Davis' second sack (he was only credited with half sack on the play) came after powering back guard Darrell Green en route to his target.
On both plays, it appeared that Davis was working as a three-technique -- off the outside shoulder of the offensive guard in front of him. Though he arrived to the Patriots as a true edge defender, listed at 260 pounds at the time, Davis has bulked up and spent plenty of time working from the interior this summer.
"There's been a learning curve," he said. "I did put on some weight, up to 280 now, but my body feels great. I don't feel a difference. Moving inside everything moves a little bit quicker. It's something I haven't done before, but I'm asked to do it so I try to go in there and master it the best I can."
With good quickness and long arms, Davis is a natural fit to work against stubbier guards and centers. Especially in New England, where Trey Flowers -- another long-armed end -- has had great success as a disruptor from the inside.
"I'm quicker than most guys on the inside" Davis said. "Got good length, I feel like. I think it uses my strengths to the best of my ability. And then I'm just learning from the guys who play inside. Malcolm Brown. Lawrence Guy's really helped whenever I'm inside. They give me the best tips they can."
For all the learning he did during his season off, for all the tutoring he's received from the veterans around him, playing time will continue to be critical.
Belichick indicated on Friday that while he's impressed by what Davis has done to this point, his young pass-rusher needs to log more minutes of game action.
"He still has a long way to go," Belichick said. "He still has a lot of things he needs to improve on and refine and react quicker to and so forth, but that comes from not having actively played football for a year, or a little more than a year . . .
"Hopefully those things will come back to him and his reactions and all will continue to improve. He's done a good job. He's in good condition. He's worked hard. I like what he's been doing."
Late on Thursday night inside the Patriots locker room, Davis entertained questions from multiple reporters, smiling often as he took his time with each. Even though he knew the game's score meant nothing, even though he said he knew he had plenty of work to do to earn a roster spot, he appeared to be enjoying the moment.
He was a long way from last year.
"It definitely wasn't promised, and they definitely took a chance on me," Davis said. "Everything just worked out. I just want to show my gratitude by going out there and playing hard, competing. Whatever role they put me in, I'll try to do my best."