Lineman vows better performance after Dallas drubbing

Updated: October 10, 2003, 10:39 AM ET
ESPN

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The quiet giant on the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line acknowledges an awful performance last week in Dallas, and promises a big improvement Sunday against Baltimore.

"The only thing I can do is come back strong and prove to myself the caliber of player that I am," Leonard Davis said after Thursday's practice, "that I know I am, and play up to the expectations of myself and the team."

Those expectations have been high since the day two years ago when the Cardinals made Davis the No. 2 pick in the draft, behind only Michael Vick. The 6-foot, 6-inch, 384-pounder from Texas was to be the anchor of a young, strong offensive line that would be the team's foundation.

Davis had a good rookie season, starting all 16 games at guard, then moved to tackle last season and was a capable fill-in for injured Anthony Clement.

This year he was back at right guard, until he broke his right hand in a fight with teammate Kyle Vanden Bosch in training camp. Davis missed all four preseason games, but wearing a heavy cast, started the opener at Detroit.

On the first series, though, he sprained his right ankle. Davis played through the injury the following week against Seattle, but sat out the next two games against Green Bay and St. Louis.

He was back last week against Dallas, and had perhaps his worst game as a pro, getting beaten repeatedly by the Cowboys' La'Roi Glover. The ankle remains a problem.

"My ankle probably won't get totally healed until after the season," Davis said, "because it got to a point where it's real tolerable. It gets sore at times, but this is about as good as it's going to get."

Switching from guard to tackle to guard has added to his troubles, Davis said.

"Right now it's hard for me for it to be natural," he said. "I've got to do a lot of thinking, more thinking than I should."

Davis' quiet, easygoing nature masks the determination he insists he has.

"I have real high expectations, higher than what most people think," he said. "But when you go out there and it's hard to play when you know that you're limited, go out and play with a cast on, can't do the things you want to do, it just makes it hard. The only thing I can do is come back and play, grind it out and work on some things."

Davis isn't the only lineman to struggle. Coach Dave McGinnis built the offense around the line, but the unit has been inconsistent and the running game pitiful.

The Cardinals average 67.4 yards rushing per game, worst in the NFC.

The running game has suffered because the team has fallen behind so quickly in three of its four losses. Against the Cowboys, though, the line was manhandled from the start.

Emmitt Smith made his much-publicized return to Dallas as Arizona's starting running back. He ended up with minus-1 yard rushing in six carries before breaking his left shoulder blade on a vicious tackle by Roy Williams. It was Smith's worst day as a pro and the offensive line had a big role in the futility.

As a team, Arizona rushed for 32 yards in 18 carries.

"The case at Dallas was their defensive line captured the line of scrimmage and controlled the line of scrimmage," McGinnis said. "Before anything can happen you've got to make that work."

Watching the Dallas game on tape was not pleasant for the linemen, especially with McGinnis and his assistants offering blunt critiques.

"As a group, definitely" it was the line's worst game, tackle L.J. Shelton said.

Shelton and the other linemen know that they are supposed to be the reason for victory, not the obvious culprit in defeat.

"We put that on our shoulders. Mac put that on our shoulders," Shelton said. "As the o-line goes, usually the team goes. We took last week pretty hard. We have to bounce back this week."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index