Knile Davis ran a wheel route out of the backfield and focused on the floating football sailing his way, ultimately realizing it might land just out of his reach.
In the past, this might have caused a momentary flash of panic that affected his focus just enough to prevent him from making a difficult catch.
But Davis was steady this time. After working on his hands the last few months, he had no doubt he could haul in the pass.
That’s exactly what Davis did. He stretched out his fingertips, dived upfield and grabbed Aaron Murray’s pass with a defender nearby, much to the delight and surprise of fans observing the Chiefs’ fourth full-squad practice Tuesday.
“Coach was speaking about having a good attitude,” he said, “so I just went over there and went toward the ball with a good, aggressive attitude and made sure I made the catch.”
It was just one moment, sure, but it was still positive step for Davis, a 5-foot-10, 227-pounder who has always been regarded as an old-school running back.
Davis, 24, has boasted a nice blend of power and speed back to his college days at Arkansas, where he showed off his running skills but only caught 32 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons.
“In college, I wasn’t asked to do too much out the backfield,” Davis said. “I’ve been asked to do a lot out the backfield here because the game, you know, has changed since I went college. It’s a pass-heavy league. I’ve been working on it.”
So far, the difference in camp has been noticeable. Davis has caught 29 passes on 43 targets for 246 yards and a touchdown in three seasons with the Chiefs, but many of those have come on screens. Over the last few days, however, Davis has made enough downfield catches — including another nice catch on a wheel route Monday — to open some eyes.
“When he first came here, that wasn’t the strength of his game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “(But) he works like crazy. No one works harder than Knile.”
Davis can thank his fiancé, Dominique Robinson, for giving him an assist. During the offseason, she bought him a half-football that you can throw off a wall and catch on the rebound, and Davis said he’d been using it every day, 30 minutes at a time, prior to camp.
“Instead of playing a (video) game, you know — because I’m a ‘Call of Duty’ man — I just go throw the ball,” Davis said.
Davis left the half-ball at home for camp — “I’ve got enough footballs and equipment to use here,” he said with a laugh — but he feels the extra work on his hands and route running this offseason have helped.
“I’ve been working on routes and I’ve been working on catching it,” Davis said. “Being able to run better routes, if you’re open, makes the quarterback have an easier throw.”
But catching the ball better isn’t the only thing Davis can do if he wants to carve out an offensive role on this team. To fully earn the staff’s trust, he knows that he has to fully eliminate his penchant for fumbling. Davis’ fumble against the Patriots in last January’s playoff loss hurt the Chiefs and he’s been carrying the ball high and tight throughout camp.
“You can never get too much of that,” Davis said. “I was (doing it) last year, but now I’m overdoing, you know, just making sure I’ve got it.”
Davis is currently the fourth-string running back on a team stocked with skill players that the club has invested draft picks in. So if he can overcome his fumbling problem, it will almost certainly help his bid to make the team.
So will his return work, as special teams coach Dave Toub confirmed Tuesday that Davis — who scored on a 106-yard kick return in the Chiefs’ playoff win over Houston in January — remains the team’s No. 1 kickoff returner, despite the presence of some other dynamic options on the roster in De’Anthony Thomas and Tyreek Hill.
“He’s an excellent player,” Toub said of Davis. “He came back in the best shape of his life. The conditioning test, I think he was first out of all of those guys. He’s lean, he’s ready to go, he’s focused and he’s ready to compete.”
Another thing working in Davis’ favor, Toub said, is the fact he’s starting to do more on special teams than just return kicks.
“He’s not only a kick returner now — we’re working him in as a cover guy as well, and he’s doing a lot as a ‘mike’ in punt return,” Toub said. “He’s taking it seriously. He knows it’s important. His focus is there.”
Davis remains confident he can be a starting running back in this league — the Chiefs did shop him this offseason — but he’s also willing to be a good teammate and do what the Chiefs ask as long as he’s here.
His opportunity, he’s sure, will come again.
“I’m good, man,” Davis said of his current mindset Tuesday. “I’m blessed to be out here playing football, man, another year. It’s my last year on my contract and I’m just happy.”