New Orleans Saints players continue their preparations for the 2020 NFL season during Training Camp practice on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020.
Alvin Kamara opened the door with his effusive praise.
Because the New Orleans Saints' Pro Bowl running back, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017, is nothing if not honest. And, honestly, he long has been impressed with teammate Demario Davis, a first-team All-Pro last season and underappreciated standout for several prior years.
"First of all, Demario is one of the smarter players I've played against and with," Kamara said. "I played against him (when) he was in New York my rookie year for the Jets. I thought he was a hell of a player then and then just to have him on my team, you see why (he makes the impact he does).
"The way he studies film, the way he approaches practice from a walk-through to a full-speed practice to a padded practice to just helmets. There's so many little intricacies in his game that make him great.
"He's tuned in to alignments. Demario can sometimes in practice, he could tell what I'm running from just like the smallest little split that I take. He'll call it out like, 'Oh, he's wide,' or, 'He's close to Drew (Brees),' or, 'Watch him, he's looking this way, he's looking left, he's looking right,' or just little things, like he's pointing everything out.
"He's athletic, he runs better than some of the guys on offense, honestly. It's hard. Going up against him you've got to be on your 'A' game. There's not a lazy play you can take against him because he's going to take advantage of your mistakes. (I'm) definitely glad to have him on my team, heck of a player."
If it seems as if Davis might have a clear understanding of what's about to develop, it's probably because it's true. From the start of his NFL career he has had Hall of Fame teaching, beginning with the team that drafted him in 2012, the Jets.
"I was fortunate to come in with some great coaches and some great players," Davis said. "I was drafted by Rex Ryan, and him and Dennis Thurman (Jets defensive coordinator from 2013-14) taught me a lot about breaking down film and understanding opponents.
"But I also had the opportunity to play with great guys like (linebacker) David Harris, (cornerback) Antonio Cromartie, (four-time first-team All-Pro cornerback) Darrelle Revis. And so, watching those guys, that was something – even when I was a young guy – that I wanted to grow in my game, was my study habits. I knew it would help me become a better player."
It didn't stop there. It got better.
"And then fortunately, I had the opportunity (in 2013) to play with (Hall of Fame safety and St. Rose, Louisiana-born) Ed Reed and we formed a relationship not just on the field, but off the field. So in the offseason, I was able to spend a lot of offseasons with him, picking his brain on how he studied for opponents and learned how to look at formations, tendencies, read quarterbacks, read alignment.
"And that just helped me continue to grow in my study habits. That's something that I take so serious that I don't even think now, that I've even broken through the cusp of what I can learn. I was even picking his brain a lot this offseason and just taking a deeper dive into how he studied tape. And I think it's helped me tremendously."
The numbers agree.
Last year, Davis' second in New Orleans after joining the Saints as an unrestricted free agent, he totaled 111 tackles, an interception, four sacks, 12 passes defensed, 11 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits. In '18, he had 110 tackles, five sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 11 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits.
Better could be on the horizon, and not just because of his continued mastery of film study. Davis dived into aquatics workouts this offseason, and he feels the improvement in his conditioning.
"I kind of liken it to getting a new car," he said, smiling. "Like getting a new Ferrari and you're just really ready to test-drive it. And so, in practice you're only able to do so much. Let's just say I'm excited to take the new wheels on a spin."
New Orleans' 90-minute practice Wednesday occurred at the indoor facility at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, as Coach Sean Payton tweaked the schedule. "Today was a padded day scheduled, so we went helmets and shoulder pads," Payton said. "We just changed it up by going inside, (Thursday) we'll be back outside. We'll do that periodically."
All-Pro returner Deonte Harris is hoping also to make an impact at receiver this season. As a rookie last year, he caught six passes for 24 yards in the regular season, and caught a 50-yard pass from Taysom Hill against Minnesota in the Wild Card playoff game. "To his credit, he's been ready for more and more and every time we've added a little bit more to his plate, he's handled it pretty well relative to the route tree," Payton said. "So we're trying to keep finding roles for him because he does so many things well. That began to happen last year and after looking at the tape, it certainly will be something that we focus on in this camp and then heading into the season."
The Saints added tight end Ethan Wolf to the roster. Wolf (6 feet 5, 255 pounds) was undrafted out of Tennessee in 2018, went to training camp and was released by the Titans that year and spent some time on Green Bay's practice squad that season. "He gives us some additional depth there," Payton said. "He's a strong player. We look at him more as an in-line tight end who can play on the line of scrimmage and block. He's had some pretty decent preseason snaps that we've seen, and so it gives us a chance to look at what we think might be a developmental blocking tight end that can also do some things in the passing game."