TUSCALOOSA — With scruff on his cheeks and recently disrupted sleep still visible under his eyes, Raekwon Davis freely admitted being late to Tuesday’s noon press availability because he’d been napping.
“Yeah, I just woke up from a camp nap,” Alabama’s 6-foot-7, 312-pound senior defensive end said, flashing a rare smile as he sat down with reporters about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Davis, the Crimson Tide’s hulking 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 proverbial fountain of youth.
“(I’m) just getting to my old self, to that sophomore Rae, to that sophomore pass-rushing Rae,” Davis said. “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’ ability to return to form comes after his pass-rush production noticeably slipped last season, when the former four-star Mississippi product finished with just 55 total tackles (5 ½ for loss) and 1 ½ sacks in 2018 after racking up 69 total tackles (10 for loss) and 8 ½ sacks as a sophomore in 2017.
And as the elder statesman of his position group, and the lone four-year contributor in the defensive line room, Davis carries a heavy burden to not only improve his own pass rush numbers from a year ago, but also set the standard for Alabama’s youth movement up front.
“I look old — I know I do — I feel old,” the soon-to-be 22-year-old Davis joked. “Sometimes it feels weird. You feel like you’re the only (veteran). The thing is, sometimes I feel old, but to (the younger players), they think I am young. So, I got to keep myself feeling young to play young.”
Davis is one of just two seniors at his position — the only other is former junior college nose guard Tevita Musika, who is entering just 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 those are several that could certainly see plenty of opportunity this upcoming 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 coordinator 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.”
In fact, with Ray still recovering from a nagging ankle injury suffered this summer, Eboigbe has been seeing first-team reps at the left-end spot 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 any.
“It’s been good. 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.”
And given the overall lack of playing experience outside Davis and Ray, who started one game last season amid significant rotational work, many of Alabama’s underclassmen — including several true freshmen — will be needed to contribute early and often this season.
Which is why Davis is taking the onus on himself to make sure they’re ready to do just that.
“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.
That along with the occasional midday “camp nap” of course.