Chiefs running back Knile Davis slipped out of the backfield, headed 8 yards downfield, turned and saw the pass from Alex Smith heading for his midsection.
Davis bobbled the pass for an instant. A year ago, that ball probably would have hit the ground.
But Davis kept the ball alive, gathered it in and tucked it away for a 6-yard gain in the first quarter of last Sunday’s preseason game at Carolina.
It was another indication that the fumbles and dropped passes that hounded Davis during his rookie season appear to be a thing of the past.
“It’s a maturity thing,” said Davis. “I probably should have been a little quicker on that route, but I was focusing on the ball and making sure I caught it.
“In this league, people are trying to come get it …”
Davis, who is scheduled to make his second straight start of the preseason on Saturday night against Minnesota while Jamaal Charles recovers from a bruised foot, had a reputation for fumbling during his college career at Arkansas, where he lost 13 fumbles, including eight in 2012, in 381 career touches.
After selecting him in the third round of the 2013 draft, the Chiefs had little question that Davis, a 5-foot-10, 227-pounder with 4.39 speed, had the size, quickness and toughness to provide a compliment to Charles.
But until now, the Chiefs couldn’t always trust him with the ball in his hands.
“He has come a long way,” said offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. “He’s made it a conscious effort to protect the football, and he understands that he is a professional and he continues to work on that in practice.
“And we ask the defensive guys when they can to go after the football and try to knock it loose. So he is conscious of it, he has done a great job so far, and hopefully he keeps that going."
Davis has learned to make sure he has two hands on the ball. All the time.
“It’s being more aware of my surroundings and having two hands on the ball,” he said. “What happens is, you have one hand on it, so you don’t see other guys hitting it. When you have two hands on it, it doesn’t matter who’s there, because it’s tight.”
The same goes for returning kickoffs. Davis made his biggest contribution as a kick returner last season, and his 108-yard return against Denver ranks tied for the second in NFL history. Even though he’s working with the starting offense in Charles’ absence, Davis will return the first kickoff against Minnesota, just as he has in the first two preseason games.
“He’s a lot better catcher of the football,” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “He hasn’t put any balls on the ground in practice. Last year, during practice, if he caught 10 balls, three of them were going to be on the ground. He’s come a long way there.”
By earning the confidence of the coaching staff, Davis hopes to contribute more to the offense and take a little of the load from Charles, who accounted for 36 percent of the Chiefs’ production last season.
As a rookie, Davis carried 70 times for 242 yards and four touchdowns, including 27 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale at San Diego when the Chiefs starters did not play.
‘The good thing about that San Diego game last year is it made me realize the beating Jamaal takes week in and week out,” Davis said. “If me and Mamba (De’Anthony Thomas) and Cyrus (Gray) can help him out and take some of that beating, it will help the team.”
After Charles left the wild-card playoff game at Indianapolis with concussion-like symptoms, Davis carried 18 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, plus he caught seven passes for 33 yards and a score before leaving the game with a fractured leg.
Davis has shown no ill effects from the injury and has carried 11 times for 58 yards in preseason with five receptions for 37 yards. He’ll get plenty of work in the first half of Saturday night’s game as the Chiefs’ first unit will play into the third quarter.
Davis’ only regret is Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson is not expected to play. Davis grew up idolizing Peterson, who is from Palestine, Texas, about 170 miles north of Davis’ home of Missouri City.
“I would love to see AP, he’s my all-time favorite running back,” said Davis. “No disrespect to Emmitt (Smith) or Barry (Sanders), but I grew up on AP in high school … college, he’s my man.
“When I look at other running backs, I kind of learn from ’em, but AP, when I put on his tape, you can’t really teach what he does. He runs with pure confidence, just wild and violent … he’s the best at it. He has everything you need.
“Even him, he gets stripped, but that doesn’t stop him.”