While not as high-profile as their turnover at quarterback and linebacker, the New England Patriots also have some substantial holes to plug on special teams this season.
Nate Ebner, who ranked third on the Patriots in special teams played in 2019, signed with the New York Giants in free agency.
Brandon Bolden, who ranked second on that list behind Matthew Slater, opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Brandon King, a perennial kicking game pillar who missed last season with a torn quad, will sit out at least the first six games as he recovers from that injury.
Cody Davis hopes to capitalize on that opportunity.
Davis, one of the Patriots’ least-heralded free agent additions, quietly has been one of the NFL’s most active special teamers over his seven pro seasons — five with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and two with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 2019, Davis was on the field for 87 percent of Jacksonville’s special teams snaps — 382 in total. Only Carolina’s Colin Jones (416) and the New York Giants’ Michael Thomas (400) played more, according to Pro Football Reference.
It was the fourth time in the last five years Davis had surpassed 360 special teams snaps, the lone outlier coming when an injury limited him to seven games in 2017.
Speaking with the media Monday for the first time since signing with the Patriots in March, the 31-year-old Texas Tech product said Bill Belichick’s affinity for and emphasis on the kicking game was part of what drew him to New England.
“For sure,” Davis said in a video call. “Whenever you spend a lot of time on special teams, you?re always scouting other teams, so I knew the Patriots had put an emphasis on special teams for a long time. That?s always been a great asset for them. So whenever the opportunity arose to come here and compete and try to earn a spot on special teams, I jumped on it. … I?m glad to be here and put in the work and try to earn a spot.”
Listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Davis said his wheels are his greatest attribute. He posted impressive times at his pre-draft pro day in 2013, running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds with a 4.01-second short shuttle and a 6.77-second three-cone drill.
“I think the No. 1 thing that probably jumps out is speed,” he said. “I?m going to try to be the fastest one on the field, first one down on kickoff. (Also my) effort and football IQ — be the one who?s making the calls, making the checks and putting our team in a position to win.”
Davis rarely played his listed position of safety for the Jaguars, logging just 10 defensive snaps (1 percent) in 2018 and 68 (7 percent) in 2019. He did see regular playing time as a deep safety late in his Rams tenure, however, and could see reps there for a Patriots team that traded away Duron Harmon during the offseason.
In 354 coverage snaps between 2016 and 2017, Davis allowed four catches on 15 targets for 45 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions and four pass breakups, per Pro Football Focus.
Terrence Brooks followed that sort of trajectory last season, earning a solid defensive foothold as Patrick Chung’s understudy after seldom playing outside of the kicking game at his earlier NFL stops. Brooks’ 274 defensive snaps in his first year with the Patriots surpassed his total from the previous four seasons combined.
First, Davis will need to secure a spot on the 53-man roster, the odds of which increased following Bolden’s and Chung’s opt-outs and King’s move to the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The Patriots’ safety group currently features Devin McCourty, Brooks, Davis, fellow veteran newcomer Adrian Phillips (himself an accomplished special teamer) and second-round draft pick Kyle Dugger.
New England also has multiple cornerbacks with safety experience, including Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams.
?I don?t think there?s any egos (in that group),” Davis said. “You just come to work every day trying to learn, really from anybody, especially Devin, who?s been here for a long time. I?m trying to pick his brain, see how they run the defense and take as much as you can and put it to work.?