Davis saw the door of opportunity crack open ever so slightly this week when the Washington Redskins learned starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather must serve a two-game suspension, thinning the ranks at the position.
So Davis planned to take advantage of any opportunity Thursday night.
Well aware that when it comes to young players stuck behind veterans, coaches want to see strong special teams play, Davis aimed to impress there as well, just as he had in the first three games of the preseason.
Davis accomplished both of those goals in the Redskins’ 24-10 win and made a strong case for himself as he tries to make an NFL roster for the first time two years after he played his final snap as a safety at Memphis.
On defense, Davis recorded three tackles and always seemed to be around the ball while splitting time with Bacarri Rambo, Trenton Robinson and Da’mon Cromartie-Smith.
On special teams, he played with abandon, racing downfield with no fear, making tackles and blowing up blocks.
“It was just an awesome opportunity,” the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Davis said. “The coaches did a great job of teaching us what to do and now we can go out and fly around. Everything that happened tonight, it was all effort.”
Davis couldn’t have timed things better considering that Redskins Coach Jay Gruden just two days earlier had commended the player, while also noting that Davis may have forced his way onto the roster even though his skills need refining.
“Akeem Davis, he’s one of the free agents that we’re talking about that has really come in and taken advantage of his reps, especially on special teams,” Gruden said Tuesday. “He’s a force to be reckoned with on special teams. And I’ll tell you what, he’s an exciting player and I know [special teams] Coach [Ben] Kotwica loves him.
“From the safety position, he’s a little bit behind the 8-ball as far as knowing the system, but he’s fighting his tail off and learning and trying to do the best he can.”
Davis willingly accepted roles on special teams. After going undrafted in 2013 and unsigned after taking part in Seattle’s rookie minicamp, he went back to Memphis and worked as a graduate assistant before getting another chance this past spring with Washington.
He has shown good smarts in the classroom and the ability to carry it over onto the field.
Davis wasted no time catching the coaches’ eyes Thursday night.
On the opening kick of the Redskins’ preseason finale against Tampa Bay, Davis made sure he stood out. He raced down field, leveled two blockers and stifled Solomon Patton’s return attempt, causing him to lose three yards.
On three of the next four kicks or punts, Davis again was among the first players downfield for Washington.
Davis didn’t start on defense. Meriweather and Ryan Clark both received the night off, and instead, Rambo and Robinson got the nods at free and strong safety.
Davis’s number was called midway through the second quarter and he displayed the same aggression in run support as he had on special teams. He showed off his versatility as well, as he rotated from strong safety to free safety, and back to strong again, never appearing to miss a beat.
At one point, Davis actually had too much aggression as he drew a penalty for a late hit out of bounds. But he quickly redeemed himself, stopping running back Jeff Demps for no gain on the next play.
After the game, Gruden remarked that the young player’s strong performance had indeed made his staff’s roster decisions more difficult.
Late in the fourth quarter, the game paused for a television timeout with 4 minutes 6 seconds left. Bruno Mars’s “Treasure” blared over the stadium speakers, and Davis — standing alone, lined up at deep center field — danced to the beat, feeling rather good, and hoping that he had done enough to prove that he just might be a diamond in the rough for Washington’s long-maligned secondary.
“I left it all on the field, and whatever happens, I can’t control it. I just look forward to the future, control what I can control and don’t worry about what I can’t control,” Davis said. “I’m always satisfied because every time you’re there you have to seize the moment and make the best of it. You do that, then you can lay your head down at night with no regrets.”