TUSCALOOSA — Raekwon Davis was late to a noon media availability earlier this week because he was taking a nap.
“Yeah, I just woke up from a camp nap,” Alabama’s 6-foot-7, 312-pound senior defensive end said.
Davis, the Crimson Tide’s defensive lineman, who elected to forgo leaving early for the NFL and return to school in January, has spent the offseason trying to dip into the fountain of youth.
“(I’m) just getting to my old self, to that sophomore Rae, to that sophomore pass-rushing Rae,” Davis said Tuesday. “I feel like it wasn’t me last year. I feel like this is my chance to prove myself to everybody like my team that I can do it and I can be that role model, that leader I was supposed to have been.”
Davis’ pass-rush production noticeably slipped last season, when he finished with just 55 total tackles (5½ for loss) and 1½ sacks after racking up 69 total tackles (10 for loss) and 8½ sacks as a sophomore in 2017.
As the elder statesman of his position group and the lone four-year contributor in the defensive line room, Davis carries a burden not only to improve his own pass rush numbers, but also to set the standard for Alabama’s youth movement up front.
Davis is one of just two seniors at his position — the only other is former junior college nose guard Tevita Musika, who is entering his second season in Tuscaloosa — and among just three players with at least three years of experience on the team, along with junior LaBryan Ray and redshirt sophomore Phidarian Mathis.
The other eight of Alabama’s 12 scholarship defensive linemen are classified as freshmen, including six members of the 2019 signing class. Among them are several who could see plenty of opportunity this season, including projected starting nose guard D.J. Dale and backup defensive ends Antonio Alfano and Justin Eboigbe.
“There’s no question I think you’re going to see a lot of new faces out there, but it’s our job to prepare those guys to get them ready to do it,” first-year defensive end Pete Golding said Saturday. “So absolutely, I think some young guys are obviously going to have to play. I think they’re in a better situation than they have been because they have some older guys in that room that are going to help them.”
With Ray still recovering from an ankle injury this summer, Eboigbe has been seeing first-team reps at left-end opposite Davis through the first week of preseason practice, meaning Davis is even outnumbered on the first-team defensive line.
Not that he’s complaining.
“It’s just like a learning process just to get them on our standards and keep them going,” Davis said of playing with so many freshmen. “They have been looking good out there. Everybody has been doing their assignments, collapsing the pocket, stopping the run.”
With so many younger defensive linemen in the mix for significant playing time, Davis is taking the onus on himself to make sure they’re ready to contribute.
“I think physically they’re prepared. It’s just the little things, like when they get tired,” Davis said. “But that’s my job, just to keep them going, just keep the energy going.”
But while working with so many underclassmen might sound taxing, it’s apparently done wonders to help rejuvenate Davis on and off the field.
“It just keeps me going, keeps me energized,” he said.