ASHBURN, Va. (AP) When Vernon Davis didn’t produce like his young self, he understood the questions.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins wondered ”what’s left in the tank” for Davis when the Washington Redskins signed the veteran tight end off the scrap heap after the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos decided they didn’t need him. Those fears evaporated at an informal offseason session at a local Washington-area high school in April.
”We were throwing, and I realized right away this guy can still play,” Cousins said. ”I’m still trying to figure out what the catch is or why two teams let him go.”
The catch is Davis is 32 years old and in his 11th NFL season, and he was limited to two touchdowns in 2014 and none last year. Back in his hometown, he’s rejuvenated with 31 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns through 11 games.
”I feel like the older I get, the better I get,” said Davis, a D.C. native and star at Maryland. ”I feel like I’m just starting, man. I’m just getting started. I tell everyone the same thing: When I lose my speed, then I’ll hang it up. But I still have my speed. I can still run. With that, I continue to play this game.”
Davis could be a big part of the Redskins’ game Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals as starting tight end Jordan Reed’s status is in doubt with a sprained shoulder. Davis already shouldered the load when Reed missed two October games with a concussion, and he has the speed and big-play ability for Cousins to turn to him.
Cousins said Davis could run the 40-yard dash like an ”elite wide receiver.”
”It’s just been a joy to play with him and have him on the team,” Cousins said. ”And with the injuries that Jordan’s sustained, he’s become even more valuable needing to step up and be a difference maker.”
Davis’ days as a difference maker aren’t that far gone. He had 52 catches, including 13 touchdowns, in 2013 for San Francisco.
On Wednesday, he lamented ”mistakes” made along the way and expressed gratitude for playing and winning a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. Davis remained optimistic, but perhaps most importantly he maintained his chiseled physique – which has receiver Pierre Garcon thinking: ”When you get older, you definitely want to look like that.”
Offensive coordinator Sean McVay said Davis is ”a guy that takes care of his body, and I think we felt very comfortable that if he was put in this situation that there would be a chance for him to have success. And he’s definitely done a great job. He’s exceeded a lot of expectations.”
Beyond the passing game, coach Jay Gruden sees Davis’ influence on the run, too.
”I think that’s where he has helped the most,” Gruden said. ”These 4.6 yards a carry that I think we are averaging right now, a lot of it is because of our tight end – blocking in the core, cut off on the backside or what have you – and he’s a big part of that.”
Blocking is one of Davis’ skills, but Garcon is quick to point out that he’s a ”receiving tight end.” Davis definitely feels like that again and is glad the Redskins took a chance on him.
”I’m always expecting the best and preparing for the worst,” Davis said. ”I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, because being back home where I was born and raised, getting an opportunity to play in front of friends and family, can’t trade that. It doesn’t happen like that often.”
NOTE: Cousins was chosen NFC offensive player of the month for November after completing 72.4 percent of his passes for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 124.4 in November, and his 362 yards a game led all quarterbacks.
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