Healthy again, Redskins tight end Fred Davis aims for a big year

Fred Davis has entered each of the past two seasons looking to capitalize on his elite athleticism and comfort within the Washington Redskins’ offense. Go out and play like he and those familiar with his game knew he had the capability to do, and accolades and a big payday would come.

But each of those contract years has ended in unfortunate fashion, and Davis has yet to entrench himself as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. The long-term contracts he sought each year have had to wait.

Wanting to gauge his maturity level in 2012 after he was suspended for the final four games of the 2011 season for failing multiple drug tests, the Redskins retained Davis under the one-year franchise player tag. This offseason, wanting to gauge his health before making a long-term financial commitment, Washington gave Davis another one-year contract.

So he again has to prove himself — in areas he both can and can’t fully control.

But Davis chooses not to fret.

The Post Sports Live crew offers early impressions on the injuries, recoveries and fans from the first week of Redskins training camp. (Post Sports Live)

“I feel like things happen for reasons, man, and I’m not really mad about it,” Davis said. “I got the one-year franchise tag, and the other one is a one-year deal now, so I feel like this third one is really going to be a good one. I really feel like the team that we’re going to have around us, all the weapons, it’s going to take a lot of pressure off me — less man coverage — and so I feel like I’m going to dominate. I really just want to help this team win.”

That confidence in himself and the situation in Washington prompted Davis to re-sign with the only team he has played for despite interest from others. Cleveland made an inquiry about Davis. The Buffalo Bills sent representatives to take Davis out to dinner and woo him, then hosted the tight end for a visit before offering him a one-year deal with more guaranteed money than Washington did, Davis said. The New York Jets had scheduled a visit with the tight end, but he canceled that visit and opted instead to return to the Redskins.

“I was kind of close [to signing with Buffalo] but not really close,” Davis recalled. “I like what they were doing over there. They had a good situation. They told me they were going to be getting a quarterback and needed a tight end a lot. That’s something that appealed to me, but I’d rather be on a team I know where I’m at. And I like D.C., too. This is where I got drafted.”

This will mark Davis’s sixth year in Washington and his fourth season in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system. With the Redskins, Davis knew he would play a significant role in the offense. In 2011, his first year as the lead tight end, he recorded a career-high 59 receptions and 796 yards (fifth most by a tight end in franchise history) in just 12 games. Because of his size and speed, he has the ability not only to come off the line as a receiver but also to go in motion as a receiver in the slot or split out wide. With electrifying Robert Griffin III at quarterback, Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, talented running back Alfred Morris and wide receiver Pierre Garcon leading an offense that ranked fifth in the league, Davis believed he could return, be reinserted into the attack and help Washington take another step forward.

“I see it as opportunity. As long as we win, everybody’s looking at us, and we’ll get our chance to shine. That’s all you want,” Davis said.

He just has to stay on the field. Attitude was never an issue, and he proved to coaches last season he had matured following his drug suspension. He has emerged as a leader on a team that has a blend of veterans and young incoming talent.

“Even with all the success he has had, he’s respectful to the coaches, still takes coaching well and just keeps learning,” rookie tight end Jordan Reed said. “And the biggest thing I’ve learned from watching him is just how consistent he is and the confidence that he has in his ability and making plays all the time. That takes a lot of effort, mentally and physically to be able to play on that level consistently like that.”

The Post Sports Live crew debates whether the Redskins defense will be more susceptible to the run or the pass in the first part of the season with injuries to Keenan Robinson and Adam Carriker and Jarvis Jenkins’s four-game suspension. (Post Sports Live)

Davis hasn’t displayed any ill effects from the Achilles’ tendon injury that cost him the final nine games of last season. After having surgery Oct. 23 and spending the winter inching his way back, Davis received clearance to run in the spring. The Redskins held him out of all offseason practices to give him additional time to train and heal, and Davis got the green light last week to practice fully once camp began.

Six days of practice in, Davis appears to have recaptured his speed and explosiveness. He has run routes without limitation and gotten open, beating coverage by linebackers and safeties.

“He has quickness. He’s a very athletic tight end. He knows how to separate himself and run routes in tight coverage and get the ball,” said rookie safety Bacarri Rambo, who admits covering Davis has proved challenging. “He’s competitive. He makes me a better player covering him. We’ll be out there competing. I enjoy him being out there. He brings the best out of me.”

Davis says he doesn’t feel any pain, soreness or weakness in his Achilles’ tendon and that he hasn’t struggled with conditioning. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan planned on giving Davis Wednesday off to rest, but Davis declined, saying he wanted to continue working his way back into top form.

Said tight ends coach Sean McVay: “Ever since we came here in 2010 with this staff, he’s a guy that you know is going to come out, work hard and compete, and you can tell he’s just motivated by helping this team win in whatever role he can, and you know he’s going to be successful.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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