ASHBURN — Jack Del Rio rarely calls players out through the media. The Washington Commanders defensive coordinator often refuses to offer any sort of comment that could be taken as criticism, going so far last year as to say that he wasn’t in the “assess the group business.”
That wasn’t the case Thursday.
Del Rio called out Jamin Davis for the second-year linebacker’s “so-so” performance in Washington’s 28-22 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Speaking to reporters, Del Rio said Davis played “OK” — but noted the 23-year-old had “practiced better” in training camp.
“He‘s gotta play better,” Del Rio said ahead of Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. “He didn’t play very well last week. I know he expects to play better. He‘ll be challenged to play better.”
Against the Jaguars, Davis’ struggles were evident. He was occasionally late in coverage, including when running back Travis Etienne beat him on a wheel route near the end zone. That play, in particular, was almost a disaster for Washington, but quarterback Trevor Lawrence overthrew Etienne on the would-be touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, Davis was targeted six times and allowed four catches for 62 yards.
Davis’ shaky season debut followed what was a rough rookie campaign. Last year, the former 19th overall pick struggled to be consistent and coaches shifted his role from middle to outside linebacker as the season progressed. Davis appeared in 16 of 17 games, but played just 52.4% of the defense’s snaps — a sign coaches didn’t always trust him to be on the field. His counterpart, veteran Cole Holcomb, played 92.4% of the snaps.
Davis said Thursday he has to “play faster” and be more consistent.
“It’s not frustrating at all,” Davis said. “You just, you go out there, you move on, you keep making plays, because that was one of the things they used to tell me last year, was trying to sit and dwell on the past. But going forward, I mean, I know who I am as a player, so just go make plays.”
The Commanders entered the season hopeful that Davis was poised to make a Year 2 leap. Coach Ron Rivera and others noted the linebacker’s improvement in the offseason, saying that the switch to outside linebacker was beneficial. Davis, they said, recognized plays faster and was able to consistently react.
And even when the Commanders added veteran linebacker help earlier this month by bringing back former starter Jon Bostic, Washington‘s coaches stuck with Davis. Bostic played only special teams against Jacksonville, while Davis was on the field for 65 of the defense’s 70 snaps (92.7%).
Still, after the Jaguars’ game, Rivera noted Davis made a couple of mistakes that “Jack wasn’t happy about.” He added that the team had to do a better job avoiding Davis from getting matched up on wide receivers, like the linebacker was against Jacksonville’s Christian Kirk.
On Thursday, Del Rio agreed with Rivera that Washington had to avoid those looks. But the coordinator said he expects his linebackers to be able to “hold up” in those situations and Davis “didn’t hold up very well.”
Asked if he was communicating a message that he felt Davis needed to hear, Del Rio dismissed the idea.
“I said what I had to say,” Del Rio said. “I’m trying to be honest. I’m not burying a guy. I’m being fair. I think he’s worked really hard. I think he prepared to play better than he did in the opener.
“We expect him to play better going forward.”