It's no secret that the start of Jamin Davis' career has not gone the way he would have liked.
Davis, Washington's first-round pick this past April, began the year in a limited role behind linebackers Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb. The rookie failed to play more than 60% of Washington's defensive snaps in any of the first five weeks of the season, a number that dipped all the way to 23% in Week 5.
But over the last two weeks, whether it's been due to injuries or defensive scheme and personnel changes, Davis has seen the field a lot more. In Week 6 against Kansas City, Davis finished with a team-high 11 tackles in the loss. Then, against Green Bay on Sunday, Davis earned his second start of the year and played a career-high 98% of snaps.
Speaking with the local media on Wednesday, Washington head coach Ron Rivera was asked about Davis' progression and praised the rookie for how far he's come along recently.
"He’s shown us some very good improvement," Rivera said. "You see him really getting more and more comfortable playing with more confidence. It had a lot to do with game planning. We really felt good about some of the things that we were going to do, and it really suited him very well.”
In college, Davis was uber-productive his final year at Kentucky. He finished the year with over 100 tackles in just 10 games -- production that caught the eye of Washington's staff during the predraft process.
Yet, NFL offenses are a different animal. The speed at which they operate is light-years quicker than most college offenses, even some of the best units in the country that Davis faced in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Adjusting to the speed of the NFL game was a challenge for Davis at the beginning of the season, but it's something Rivera feels the rookie has gotten more comfortable with as the season has gone on.
"You don't see the hesitation, you know what I'm saying? When the ball is snapped, there's usually a one, two, and then we go. Now we're starting to see the things that now you can feel it's become a little more natural for him in terms of what he reads and believing what he sees," Rivera said.
"Part of getting these guys from the college ranks is obviously the offenses are a little bit different. Now learning these techniques, it hampered him a little bit, but now he seems to be getting the flow of it. He’s moving very quickly, getting good reads and trusting himself.”
When Washington scouted Davis in the predraft process this spring, his natural athleticism and skill set stood out to the coaching staff just as much as high incredible production did. In today's pass-happy NFL, a linebacker who can play sideline-to-sideline is almost a necessity. Between Davis' speed, instincts and athleticism, Washington's scouting department felt Davis would eventually be able to assume that role.
And, now that Davis has begun to feel more comfortable in Washington's defensive system, Rivera feels that the team is beginning to see what the rookie linebacker is truly capable of.
"We know who Jamin is in terms of his athletic ability and stuff like that," Rivera said. "Now it's a matter of getting more and more comfortable with what you're doing. As he does that, you see he'll play faster and faster, which we've seen these last couple of weeks."
Davis has felt more comfortable as the weeks have gone on, too.
"It's pretty crazy. Just trying to learn everything and get a feel for the game speed, getting a feel for the type of routes you will see and different run fits and whatnot," Davis told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay. "It was pretty crazy just to learn everything and I'm just living in the moment, just like, 'Wow, I'm really here now and now it's time to show the world who I am,' but now that I got a feel for it, it's just like, now I can just go out and play my game."
Yet, like with most rookies, there have been growing pains for Davis, even as he's made significant improvements in the past two weeks.
Last Sunday in Green Bay, Davis was lined up with Packers tight end Robert Tonyan 1-on-1 in the red zone. Davis played his leverage the wrong way, which led to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing Tonyan open for a touchdown.
"The biggest thing on that is you'd like to see Jamin get his hands on [Tonyan] a little bit first. Secondly, then he's got to understand where his leverage help is and then work to that position. In that particular defense, he had post help," Rivera said. "The more Jamin plays, the more he works, the more he gets into that situation where he's playing that particular coverage in that particular situation. He'll know, and he'll learn, hey, based on this, I've got to go ahead and convert to an outside position because my leverage is to the inside.”
Throughout the season, Rivera has been preaching growth and improvement with his football team. Yes, Davis failed to execute that coverage against Tonyan properly, but his head coach is confident it's something the rookie will learn from moving forward.
But besides that one miscue, Rivera -- a former linebacker himself -- has been pleased overall with the growth of the No. 19 overall pick the past few weeks. Davis is starting to use his full skill set to his advantage, something the entire staff is looking forward to seeing more of in the coming weeks.
"We've seen some really good things from him that really get us excited as coaches, especially defensive coaches, when you watch a guy that now he's using his full skillset," Rivera said. "When you see and range from one side to the other, I mean, that's what we saw on tape coming out of Kentucky. He was the best linebacker coming out of the SEC for a reason, a very productive guy. We’ve seen that in the last two weeks.”
Tune in to Washington Football Kickoff Live on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. for Jamin Davis' full interview with JP Finlay.