No returning Chargers player was more affected by the team’s offseason moves than Michael Davis, the veteran cornerback pushed down the depth chart this spring.
On Wednesday, in his first media session of training camp, Davis admitted that he permitted distractions to affect his play in 2021.
“I think last year for me, it was a year of distractions — on the field and off the field,” he said. “So I think that came into play in my game … like inconsistency. But I think we’re past that.”
In his fifth season, Davis started all 14 games in which he played, finishing with 54 tackles, a team-high 12 passes knocked away and one interception.
But he also was part of a defense that too often failed to make key stops, the Chargers finishing last in the NFL on third down.
Though he didn’t provide many details Wednesday, Davis indicated his issues a year ago came mostly off the field.
“It was just distraction in my personal life, like with my previous girlfriend. …” he said. “Whatever happens off the field comes onto the field and vice versa. This year, I was able to eliminate all the distractions and go back to [being] myself.”
In the offseason, the Chargers signed Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson and veteran slot corner Bryce Callahan, effectively dropping Davis to No. 4 at the position, also behind Asante Samuel Jr.
Davis has started 49 of the 51 games in which he has appeared since the middle of the 2018 season.
In March 2021, he signed a three-year extension. worth up to $25.2 million, $15 million of which was guaranteed.
That was two months after Brandon Staley took over as head coach and began installing a more sophisticated defense. Davis said he feels much better in Staley’s system now.
“I’m a lot more comfortable actually because last year I feel like I didn’t have a grasp of the defense,” he said. “Now this year I do have a grasp.”
Asked specifically about the difference between this defense and the one the Chargers used under former coordinator Gus Bradley, Davis explained that Staley’s scheme emphasizes more of a group effort, something several Chargers have noted.
“This defense you got to play with everybody around you,” Davis said. “I’m getting more used to playing with my teammates.”
In a system that relies heavily on defensive backs and versatility, Davis still figures to have a role and, during team drills Wednesday, was playing ahead of Samuel.
But Davis also has been a regular on special teams, something he did almost exclusively as a rookie in 2017 and into his second season before becoming a defensive starter.
“It’s been fun,” Davis said of being deployed as a gunner on the punt team. “I’m still killing at it.”
In their dime package, the Chargers have using Davis at the line of scrimmage, quite a departure from his usual position lining up outside.
From that spot, Davis is required to bring a more physical presence when defending bigger receivers or providing support against the run.
“It’s a different position, but I like it,” Davis said. “I guess it just adds more value. We’ll see how it goes. I’m liking it.”
Another returnee affected by the rebuilding of this defense has been 2019 first-round pick Jerry Tillery, who last year started 15 games and played a career-high 79% of the defensive snaps.
They also signed veteran Morgan Fox, re-signed Christian Covington and drafted Otito Obgonnia as they bolstered their depth up front.
Highlights from the Chargers’ practice Wednesday in Costa Mesa:
Tensions heightened early in 11-on-11 drills when Joseph-Day tackled Austin Ekeler on a run up the middle. Though the players were in pads, there was supposed to be no tackling to the ground. Joseph-Day and Ekeler exchanged words as both players headed in opposite directions.
The top defensive moments came from Joseph-Day (sack and two tackles for loss), Ja’Sir Taylor (forced fumble), Brandon Sebastian (interception), Chris Rumph II (sack), Alohi Gilman (pass breakup) and Damon Lloyd (two pass breakups).
Staley rejoined the team on the field after missing practice Tuesday to be with his young son, Grant, who had surgery to treat a fractured toe and possible infection. Staley said Grant was at home and recovering. … Among the Chargers who didn’t practice were Derwin James Jr. (contract negotiation), edge rusher Khalil Mack (undisclosed), wide receiver Mike Williams (undisclosed), linebacker Drue Tranquill (groin) and tight ends Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) and Tre’ McKitty (undisclosed). … Center Isaac Weaver and edge rusher Ty Shelby, a pair of undrafted rookies, both went down because of injuries and did not return.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.