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Davis Shows Promise in Preseason Opener

Posted Aug 12, 2017

Former USC running back Justin Davis returned to the Coliseum in tonight's preseason opener against the Cowboys. Davis led the team in total rushing yards.

The Rams returned to the Coliseum on Saturday, opening their 2017 preseason with a narrow 13-10 victory over the Cowboys. 

And while he’s a rookie, there was one player on the Rams’ sideline who looked especially comfortable running in the historic venue: former USC running back Justin Davis. 

“When I walked into the locker room it was surreal at first because you have everything covered up and it’s different colors and what not,” Davis said after the game. “But at the end of the day, it feels like home and this will always be home for me.”

It looked like he was at home, too. While he was listed as one of several backups coming into the preseason opener, Davis took snaps with the second-team offense under quarterback Sean Mannion. With nine carries for 72 yards, Davis led the Rams’ offense in rushing, averaging 7.8 yards per carry.

Davis made headlines when he first signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent back in May, especially with six other running backs already on the roster. But Davis was not intimidated by the competition, instead viewing it as a chance to prove his worth.

“After the draft I sat down with my agents and I had a lot of choices to go to, but they all told me that the Rams were the best opportunity and I agreed with them,” Davis said after Saturday’s game. “I know the job is still up for grabs to make the team or not, but I never turn down a challenge, I always love to compete.”

At USC, Davis rushed for 2,465 yards, scoring 21 touchdowns and was known for his fantastic cuts and speed in open space. But with his 451 career touches between 2014 and 2016, also came eight fumbles — one of the higher rates in his draft class according to Pro Football Focus. And that was still an issue in Davis’ first professional game. 

Of the Rams’ five fumbles, two were from Davis. And as the undrafted free agent looks to make his case for a spot on the 53-man roster come September, he recognized his need to prioritize ball security. 

“For me, it was growing pains, learning what I can’t do here, what I did in college. There’s just certain things where I might try to get some extra yards,” he said of his two fumbles. “[But] that’s definitely a main focus where I have to keep going forward and make sure that I don’t give up the ball.”

Outside of his two fumbles, Davis definitely turned some heads on the field, including those of head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff. In the second quarter alone he rushed for an impressive 40 yards on six carries. And in the third quarter, Davis recorded a highlight run in open space for a 32-yard gain.

“I thought he ran it well — I thought he ran it really well,” Goff said. “I think the best part was that he had that fumble and he came back and kept running really well. And that’s good to see, to have a guy with a short memory like that.”

“You can feel that he’s a great back with good explosion, [and] good change-of-pace,” McVay said. “He’s very productive in the receiving game as well. But we certainly have to do a better job as a running backs’ group of taking care of the football. And I know he’ll be one of those guys that will really focus on it in this next week.”

While it was an up and down night overall, Davis chalked up his shortcomings on field to first-time jitters, choosing to focus on the slipups as a chance to get better.

“Well, my first NFL game I made a couple of mistakes here and there, but all that matters is how I bounce back and how I can eliminate the mistakes in the future because it’s different than in college,” Davis said. “It’s more intense, it’s faster, the players are smarter. I have to adjust to that.” 

Davis will get that chance next Saturday as the Rams take on the Raiders in Oakland for Week 2 of the preseason.