Nearly every member of the New Orleans Saints’ draft class who made it to the regular season has gotten a chance to shine this season.
Tyeler Davison’s chance arrived Sunday.
With starting nose tackle John Jenkins sidelined because of a concussion, Davison started in the middle against Carolina, played a season-high 66 snaps, made two tackles and pushed the pocket against the Panthers.
“Played pretty strong, progressing the way we need him to,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “He’s got a lot of talent. He’s got a nose for the ball. Of course we’ll be happy when John Jenkins comes back, but Tyeler did his thing. Of course, there were a couple of times when he was behind a block, but that was almost everybody.”
Davison had already played extensively this season.
Used as an interior rusher in sub-packages, Davison has played 47.4 percent of the defensive snaps for the Saints this season, notching 13 tackles, 1½ sacks, two tackles-for-loss and five quarterback hits.
But making a start as an every-down nose tackle is a much different role.
“The sub-packages is a lot more pass, and you kind of get sprinkled in, instead of being in there consistently,” Davison said. “I played a lot more against the run, it was more regular. I hit my stride, could get in the rhythm of the game a lot more.”
A fifth-round pick from Fresno State, Davison has paid off so far.
The 6-foot-2, 309-pounder has versatility, and he’s got enough power to hold his own at the point of attack.
“He is an active guy,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It changed the game for him in that he was receiving more snaps in the base (defense) and less in the nickel, but I would say (he played) very well. He stays on his feet, and that is a good sign. Sometimes that position is holding up in some of those doubles zone schemes, but I thought he was active, and for this game it was much different than games he has been involved in the past where he might be on the nickel rush and not playing as much in the base.”
A nose tackle has to do a lot of dirty work without necessarily getting involved in the tackle.
And Carolina’s offense didn’t lend itself to a big stat line. For all its reputation as a power running team, the Panthers do a lot of their work on the perimeter game and by utilizing misdirection, leaving Davison in a position to keep blockers off the linebackers and allow them to flow to the outside.
“You’ve still got to take care of your gap, and attack your gap, because that’s your responsibility,” Davison said. “If you don’t, they’re going to run it in there. You’ve also got to get ready to run and play sideline-to-sideline.”
Davison, like the rest of the Saints defense, was far from perfect, but the signs are there. Facing off against the interior of the Carolina line, Davison held his own, making a case for more snaps in the base defense.
But the rookie found it hard to evaluate his performance without thinking about the outcome. New Orleans failed to maintain its first-half defensive momentum and lost a chance to knock off the NFL’s only undefeated team, a lesson for Davison and the rest of the Saints’ enormous rookie class.
“You’ve got to do all the little things right,” Davison said. “All those things accumulate, and they result in either a win or a loss.”