ASHBURN, Va. -- While Vernon Davis' playing time has increased, his production has decreased. Davis and the Washington Redskins don’t view that as a correlation, but rather happenstance. There are reasons to explain why the veteran tight end hasn’t been targeted as much in recent weeks and why his big plays have dropped.
They don’t include the 33-year-old being worn down.
“You would think that could be the case, but I don’t think it has been,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He keeps himself in unbelievable shape. He should do his own workout videos, really. I mean, he’s unbelievable. I haven’t seen any wear and tear on him. He hasn’t slowed down, and he’s still strong at the point of attack, so I haven’t seen it.”
With Jordan Reed done for the season -- and having only played six games this season -- the Redskins have needed more from Davis. If he maintains his current pace, Davis will finish with approximately 750 snaps this season, compared to 638 last season and 587 in 2015. As of now, Gruden does not anticipate using rookie Jeremy Sprinkle more in Davis' place. The Redskins use Sprinkle in their three-tight-end sets and would only play him ahead of Davis if the veteran were hurt. Gruden said Sprinkle still must develop in all areas -- and the team wants him to get stronger. He factors in the future, but not necessarily in the next two weeks.
And it's not as if Davis feels like he needs a breather.
“I feel the same way since the beginning of the season,” Davis said. “I feel good. I feel awesome.”
But his numbers haven’t followed suit. He’s had a combined 20 targets in the past five games; he had 20 in the two games before that. Davis has caught a combined nine passes in the past five weeks. Davis has been a greater focus of opposing defenses without Reed on the field. The two-tight-end sets that were potent with Davis and Reed on the field together have not produced much pop without Reed. The Redskins also have not received the sort of blocking on the outside, whether by tight ends or receivers, that can help develop a more consistent rushing attack.
Relief could be in sight for Davis: The Redskins' final two opponents, the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, rank 25th and 30th, respectively, in number of receptions by opposing tight ends. The Broncos are 28th in yards per catch by opposing tight ends, three spots behind the Giants.
So there’s a chance Davis will finish strong. If he does, he can owe some of that to the way he takes care of himself.
Davis’ off-field habits likely have helped. He said he’s worked with Anthony Hirschman, his personal “Yoda” for the past seven years. In addition, Davis’ diet since entering the NFL has kept him healthy. He’ll eat scrambled eggs for breakfast and chicken breast for lunch. Any cheese is low fat and any red meat is lean. He’ll eat brown rice instead of white rice and have his vegetables steamed.
Davis compared his habits to Tom Brady’s TB12 method.
“I feel it’s similar, the way he takes care of his body,” Davis said. “I was intrigued reading that article in ESPN the Magazine. It resonates with me, just from eating healthy to getting the proper sleep, stimulating your mind mentally when it comes to visualization. All those things go hand in hand. ... If you indulge in those things, make it a habit -- a good healthy habit -- it will take you a long way.”
Davis said his injured hand is also not an issue. After the Week 9 win at Seattle, Davis showed off his right hand after the game. It was so swollen that it looked like a topographical map with a big mountain in the middle. Davis caught six passes in that game, and despite the injured hand grabbed another seven the following week vs. Minnesota.
He said he nearly sat out against the Vikings, but wore special padding and decided he could play.
“That week I thought about sitting out,” Davis said.
But the hand no longer bothers him. Nor does his lack of numbers in the passing game over the past five weeks.
“Like I tell everyone, whether I’m out there blocking or pass protecting, even if I get one catch I’m elated to be out there,” Davis said. “Tomorrow is never promised. If you keep that mindset you play loose and have fun. You can’t take these things for granted; you just never know.”