There is no special technique Demario Davis will use to deal with Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch when the Jets face the Raiders on Sunday at Oakland-Alameda Stadium. Nothing other than the most elemental strategy the middle linebacker has used since growing up in Brandon, Mississippi.
“See football, get football,” Davis told Newsday after practice on Thursday. “That’s how I’ve played since I was a little kid. You see the ball, you get the ball, whoever’s got it. You’re just trying to get to him as fast as possible and you’re trying to arrive as violently as possible.”
Welcome to what could turn out to be the most important individual matchup in the Jets’ game against the high-powered Raiders, who are among a handful of AFC teams with legitimate Super Bowl hopes this season. Lynch has been an important addition to the Raiders’ lineup this season after coming out of retirement and convincing the Seahawks to trade his rights to his hometown team.
The winner of that running back vs. middle linebacker battle might very well end up winning the game. And although the Jets are coming into the game as a two-touchdown underdog, Davis refuses to yield an inch.
Where some — OK, almost everyone but the people in the Jets’ locker room — don’t give the Jets a chance, Davis sees this as an opportunity to show his team is up to the challenge.
Contending with Lynch — affectionately known to his fans as “Beast Mode” — will be Davis’ personal proving ground.
“He’s a dominant back in this league,” he said of Lynch. “We see the same thing everybody else sees. He’s a hard runner, a smart football player. He can make plays out of the backfield, so it’s going to be a tough task. It’s going to take the whole defense, but I think we’re up for the challenge.”
If last week’s 21-12 loss to the Bills is an indication, the Jets’ foremost task will be stopping the run, something they didn’t do against Buffalo. Tailback LeSean McCoy rushed for 110 yards and the Bills gained 190 yards on the ground.
Jets coach Todd Bowles pinned much of the blame for the failed run defense on linemen Mo Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon. Davis, meanwhile, did all he could, producing a game-high 14 tackles and adding a half-sack in his first game since replacing the departed David Harris as the team’s middle linebacker.
An unexpected turn of events resulted in his promotion to the position. Davis, the Jets’ third-round pick in 2012, was released after the 2015 season and played for the Browns last year. He was reacquired in a trade for safety Calvin Pryor, who had become expendable after the drafting of safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.
Davis initially was expected to play a backup role behind Harris and second-year linebacker Darron Lee, but after Harris was released in May, Davis was elevated to the starter’s role. And all that goes with it.
As the middle linebacker, Davis is in charge of organizing the defense and has taken on the leadership role previously held by Harris. He welcomes the added responsibility.
“Being the middle linebacker, it’s more like being the quarterback of the defense,” he said. “You’re responsible for getting the guys lined up, keeping guys on the same page. You control the energy. When you’re central like that, just by your position, it has a bigger and deeper responsibility.”
It is a familiar position for Davis.
“No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always felt like a leader,” said Davis, who went to Arkansas State after playing football, basketball and track at Brandon High. “It’s being at the center of things and being able to relate to different guys from different backgrounds. You have to be able to relate to guys on the [defensive] front, guys in the [secondary], be able to speak their language and do it in a quick and relatable way so guys can go and respond and do that.”
He also has to lead by example.
“You have to go out and play at a high level,” he said. “If you play at a high level, your team will play at a high level. If you don’t, then you can’t really ask your team to play at a high level. So the energy follows you. I think that’s how I’ve always done it. I never want to put pressure on anybody else. I always want to put the pressure on myself, and it’s a lot that comes with it, but I think it’s just natural.”
A captain his final two years at Arkansas State and in his senior year at Brandon High, Davis has to put his leadership skills to a huge test with the Jets. While the team does not name captains for the season, Davis is an acknowledged leader on a club going through a major roster overhaul.
“No matter where you are, you have a job to do and you have an assignment to do, and that’s not going to change based on who’s around you,” he said. “Everybody’s different. You have young guys who are very advanced, and you have some old guys who are very slow. It’s just different. It’s not based on young or old. It’s just based on how well you can relate as an individual to other people.”
Getting to know his teammates is an important part of the process.
“I just try to lead through relationships,” Davis said. “I want to know who a guy is off the field, not just on the field, to be able to have conversations with him, so when I ask him to do something in the game or make a check, he can look at me and know where I’m coming from. That makes it easy. As long as you can relate to guys and guys can relate to you and they know that you’ve been real, they’ll follow you anywhere. Being in this position, you have to perform at a high level on a constant basis, no ifs, and or buts about it, because you’ve got 10 other guys that mimic what you do.”
Davis hopes those 10 other guys can mimic a winning effort . . . even if no one else is counting on it.