RICHMOND — Robert Davis had doubts. Oh, yes, he had lots of doubts.
Barely more than a year ago, he was a 23-year-old in his second professional season, looking as if he could win a battle to be the Washington Redskins’ fourth or fifth wide receiver. Then came the day in training camp practice when he leaped to catch a pass from quarterback Alex Smith, landed awkwardly on his right leg and collapsed to the field in agony.
Doctors discovered he tore not only his ACL but his lateral collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament as well. He also broke his tibia. He couldn’t walk for three months and couldn’t run for five. As autumn turned to winter and he couldn’t move, he wondered whether his leg would ever be better.
“I definitely had doubts that I would be able to play again and, if I did, would I be the same player,” Davis said.
But he kept pushing because it was all he knew to do. Slowly, the knee started to heal, and as training camp approached he realized there was a chance he would be able to play again this summer. The Redskins already had counted him out for this past spring. Coach Jay Gruden said he was expecting to have Davis on the physically unable to perform list, perhaps even into this camp. Then he turned out to be ready sooner than anyone thought.
“He busted his tail to get back on the field,” Gruden said. “He worked his tail off to get himself ready to go, and [I’m] glad to see he got some opportunities. I still think he’s fighting through a bit of rust and the kinks, but there’s a lot to like there.”
Davis was one of the few Redskins offensive players to shine in the team’s preseason opener Thursday night in Cleveland. Playing early in the game with the second- and third-team offense, he really sparkled on Washington’s second possession when he burst deep past two defenders on a third and nine from the Washington 17, allowing quarterback Case Keenum to lob a long pass his way and drawing a pass interference call on the Cleveland 40.
Two plays later, Davis took advantage of a blown coverage and ran wide open down the right side. Keenum again lobbed a throw that he caught easily before running into the end zone for the Redskins’ only touchdown in a 30-10 loss.
“That was a huge play to get,” Keenum later said of the pass interference call that Davis drew, a play that ignited an offense that had been unable to do anything until that point.
Suddenly, Davis has forced himself into a significant battle at wide receiver. Injuries left the Redskins scrambling to find receivers last season, but now with Davis, Paul Richardson Jr. and Trey Quinn healthy, the team is looking at the possibility of having more promising receivers than it probably expected.
On Sunday, Gruden said wide receiver has become “a tough position,” hinting that cuts are going to be especially tough given the competition in camp. He also suggested the daily dominance of third-round draft pick Terry McLaurin — initially picked to be a special teams player — means the team might have to keep other players with special teams in mind, possibly throwing any roster projection out the window.
Davis doesn’t seem worried about roster projections. He is just happy to be on the field.
“You never understand how valuable it is to walk until you can’t do it,” he said with a smile.
When it is suggested that he might have been forgotten a bit in the team’s plans given that he had so far to go to come back and given the drafting of players such as McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon as well as the emergence of Quinn and Cam Sims, he shrugged.
“I really don’t think about it,” he said. “It is like, I feel my job is to come out here and play. It’s not really who remembered me or who cares if I make the team, don’t make the team. My job is to come out here and when my number’s called make plays.”
He smiled again.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better every day, and I got better today, and I took a step forward being able to go out there in live competition and play, so I’m taking steps in the right direction,” he said.
Two years ago, the Redskins picked Davis in the sixth round out of Georgia State because he ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.4 seconds and seemed to have instincts for getting open. After spending his first season on the practice squad he looked likely to break through last summer until his knee blew apart. Now that he’s healthy again, he is making what seemed like an easy roster decision a whole lot harder.
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