Noie: Avery Davis a play-maker to be for Notre Dame - just not at QB

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Few college football players carry as much annual interest and intrigue – often for no real reason – than the backup quarterback at Notre Dame.

Who is he? What’s his story? Can he play? Should he play?

But what happens when the quarterback position remains in a holding pattern — 1A (Brandon Wimbush) and 1B (Ian Book) — heading into 2018? When there’s no clear-cut backup, just put the spotlight on the backup to the backup. In this case, redshirt sophomore Avery Davis.

Who is he? What’s his story? Can he play? Should he play? Didn’t much matter last year when Davis spent his freshman season often running the other teams’ offense on scout team. He may not follow a similar script this season.

Davis could become a key part of the game plan for offensive coordinator Chip Long. Just likely not at the position he was recruited to play. The position he still believes he can play. With each passing practice of spring, there was Davis doing a little something at everything besides quarterback.

He lined up in the backfield. Corralled some carries. Caught some swing passes. Played a little at receiver, took some jet sweeps, caught some passes. Even lined up in the Wildcat formation. There, he’d take a direct snap and run the ball. Even threw some passes.

Last month was about getting some consistency from Wimbush and Book, but also about getting Davis on the field and letting him do what he loves.

“I just like making plays,” Davis said. “Wherever I’m at, if I’m making a play, I’m happy. I’m always having a good time.”

Davis didn’t have a good time last year. Third on the depth chart, the likelihood that he would see any meaningful minutes on the field were minimal. His number was never needed, never called. He took that year to learn the game, learn what it takes to be a quarterback at the elite level. Work on his mind and his body and come spring, be ready to offer more than the first time around.

Even with all that waiting, he never wondered if he could help.

“Knowing you could make an impact, knowing you could make plays,” Davis said, “that really pushed me into it like, ‘Yeah, you can do this.’”

Just not at quarterback. Not yet. One question offered by head coach Brian Kelly during spring helped the Cedar Hill, Texas native slingshot into one of the more intriguing offseason storylines.

What do you want to do?

It was obvious to everyone around the Gug that Wimbush and Book would receive the majority of the snaps in the spring. Wimbush often ran with the ones; Book the twos. Davis had a few scraps of leftover snaps, but nothing that would satisfy his hunger to help. To compete. To get on the field. To make plays. No matter how he did, he’d remain on the outside looking in. Number 3 still was No. 3 on the depth chart. That might not change, and even could be challenged in fall when freshman Phil Jurkovec arrives. What about Davis?

Thus, the question. For the present. For the future.

“You can stay in that position or we think you’ve got some talent to help our offense,” Kelly recalled telling Davis. “He wanted to do this.”

“This” meant going from a quarterback in waiting tomorrow to a multi-dimensional offensive threat today. Running the ball. Catching the ball. Occasionally throwing it. For so long, Davis had seen the game only through the quarterback’s eyes. Paid attention only to areas only a quarterback needed to consider. The line of scrimmage. The blitz. The corners. In the spring, Davis’ eyes and attention darted everywhere.

What scheme is the defense showing? What gap might he get through? Where’s the middle linebacker? The outside ‘backer? The safeties? The one gap that he could get to and break a big play?

“I’m looking at the field from a whole different perspective,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in initially (but) it’s helping me get a better understanding of the offense.”

Making the move

Before understanding the offense, Davis first had to jump in with both feet on the position switch. Had to be a total buy-in; no halfway stuff. That’s not always easy. and it wasn’t for Davis. Having thrown for 2,876 yards and 37 touchdowns and rushed for eight more and 369 yards as a senior at Cedar Hill (Texas) High, Davis considered himself the classic dual-threat quarterback. He believed he could hurt teams at the next level with his arm and his legs and his smarts. He still might. It just might not be from behind the center. At least, not full time.

Davis set ego aside and accepted that if lining up here or shifting over there was going to get him on the field faster, he was all in. Had to be. Needed to be.

“When it comes down to it, I love playing the game,” he said. “It wasn’t too hard. I’m really happy with it.”

Davis’ spring showing showed. The more he accepted the role and embraced the opportunity to make plays in different ways, the more he did. Out of the backfield. Down the field. Sometimes, out of the pocket. By the second-to-last week of work, Long would step to the post-practice podium to meet the media and identify Davis as the most explosive player on offense.

Whoa.

Davis just made plays. A lot of them. Gave the offense an edge of versatility that the group didn’t always have last season, especially late in the year when all the play-makers were too banged up to keep up.

“He’s an explosive young man who picks things up really quick,” Long said. “He’s really kind of surpassed my expectations.”

Playing here and there and everywhere also forced Davis to pay a price. While Wimbush and Book spent spring in red (hands-off) jerseys, Davis was in navy blue. That meant he was live from start to finish. He took his share of shots running, catching, quarterbacking.

In the spring game, he finished with 30 rushing yards on 11 carries, 24 receiving yards on two catches and 26 passing yards on two completions. Afterward, the 5-foot-11, 203-pounder insisted he liked his new role, but also admitted that it hurts. He hurt.

“I’m banged up,” he said with a smile. “I’m taking a lot more hits. I gotta keep going.”

That pain will serve as summer motivation for Davis. To get in the weight room. To add some more muscle in his chest and shoulder areas. To bulk up. Become more durable. Reliable. Work on his hands. Get his routes down. Become a threat.

If he thought he took a pounding in the spring, wait until the real stuff starts this fall. Still, easing into a cold tub after games will sure beat carrying a clipboard during them.

“He doesn’t want to give up his ability to play quarterback down the road, but in the meantime, you need to play this year,” Kelly said. “This gives him the opportunity.”

What Davis does with it is up to him.

tnoie@ndinsider.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Avery Davis, center, brings versatility to a Notre Dame offense that could have used it last season. This year, he may do more than just play quarterback.