SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Only a few days into Dallas Cowboys training camp and the stories about Leonard Davis are already piling up.
Team owner Jerry Jones tells about watching film of a practice and noticing something strange: Every time his new right guard hit someone, their head popped up. That wasn’t happening with anybody else. Running back Julius Jones, generously listed at 5-foot-10, is telling people that his trick for avoiding defenders this season will be running run behind No. 70: “They can’t even see me.” Strength coach Joe Juraszek is awed by the way Davis runs, saying his strides are as fluent as any skill-position player. Adds cornerback Terence Newman, a former Big 12 sprint champion: “For a guy that doggone big, he’s probably the most athletic guy I’ve seen. He runs with skill and grace.” Earlier this summer, Davis used a tractor to rescue a horse stuck in mud. Said coach Wade Phillips: “I don’t know that he needed that tractor.”
Davis is listed as 6-foot-6, 354 pounds. After seeing him in pads and hearing the stories, it’s tempting to add the word “only” before his dimensions.
A jolly giant, Davis has been larger than life as long as he can remember. His proportions were especially oversized growing up in Wortham, a town with a population of about 1,000 located 70 miles southeast of Dallas.
Davis really stood out at a high school with only 150 kids. Which, of course, leads to another story.
Playing in Class 1A, the smallest in the state, Davis was such a beast his senior year that he pulled off a rarity: winning offensive player of the year honors as a lineman and being named top defender, too.
Davis led Wortham to a state title in basketball, too. He was even agile enough to dunk.
“I don't believe it,” teammate Terrell Owens said, laughing. “Show me the tape.”
Davis played for the Texas Longhorns, then was taken second overall in the 2001 draft. Unfortunately for him, it was by the Arizona Cardinals.
He started at right guard, right tackle and left tackle, and helped the Cardinals set milestones like leading the NFL in passing offense for the first time, the second-fewest sacks in club history and their first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998. But Arizona never won more than seven games, and that was his rookie year.
Then again, Davis hasn’t exactly made the most of his overwhelming physical skills. One barometer is the fact he’s yet to make the Pro Bowl.
Once the Cardinals opted not to keep him, Davis hit free agency. Dallas was a perfect fit because of the proximity to home, the chance to join a playoff team and — the big reason — the money: a seven-year contract worth nearly $50 million. He’s guaranteed $18.75 million, having already pocketed a team-record $16 million signing bonus.
“It just happened to be the ideal situation,” Davis said.
The Cowboys were swayed by his youth (he turns 29 the first week of the season), his versatility and the belief their coaches can make a dynamic player out of his dynamic physique.
“There are things I’m working on,” he said. “For the most part, it’s technical. It’s just a matter of concentrating and doing those little things right, being consistent with everything.”
Davis is taking over the right guard spot from Marco Rivera, a free agent signee who never lived up to expectations. It’s the only change on a line that last season made way for a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers. It was just the second time the Cowboys pulled off that feat.
But Davis could be on the move, sooner if not later.
Starting tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo are on the physically unable to perform list and expected back within weeks. Should either have a serious setback, Davis would be the first option. With Adams headed into free agency, Davis may wind up replacing him next season anyway.
“It’s all good,” Davis said. “Everything in life is a challenge. It’s up to you to make the best of it.”