Davis short on height, long on confidence

Updated: January 25, 2007, 4:19 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

MOBILE, Ala. -- Granted, it's difficult for the NFL staffs who coach at the Senior Bowl to match names and faces. But as San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan attempted to make an early-week assessment of Florida State linebacker Buster Davis, Nolan sounded like he was writing a personal ad.

"No. 7," Nolan began. "Short, wide, loves football."

Buster Davis
Don Juan Moore/WireImage.comBuster Davis wants teams to look at his production, not height.

Give Nolan this: He pretty much nailed Davis, who's roaming the middle of the field for the South team. One of most interesting assessments of the week at Ladd-Peebles Stadium will be how the NFL talent scouts try to squeeze the 5-foot-9 3/8, 244-pound Davis into the cookie cutters that they bring to every draft bakeoff.

Davis surrenders in the neighborhood of five inches to fellow South linebackers Patrick Willis of Ole Miss, Earl Everett of Florida and Juwan Simpson of Alabama.

"If they look at how I play," Davis said, his smile nearly as wide as his shoulders, "I play like I'm 6-4."

If the white coats at the National Institutes of Health ever saw Davis, they would faint. The NIH's Web site has a calculator for body mass index, the accepted measure of body fat. If your BMI is 25, you're overweight. If it's 30, you're obese. Davis' is 35-plus, which should mean the next game he plays is "The Biggest Loser."

In truth, the BMI doesn't apply to highly trained athletes. Davis may not fit the NFL's mold, but he fits that one. He walks with the horizontal sway of a bodybuilder. He runs to the ball quickly, too. But it's hard not to notice how, when Davis stood in front of the South defensive huddle Tuesday to call the play, it looked like the guys on the back row had to get on their tiptoes to see him.

"Hopefully, my height won't bother the NFL," Davis said. "You got to have a flaw. There is no perfect player. [San Francisco linebackers assistant] Mike Singletary is coaching me. He's the best that ever played the position. That shows you right there it doesn't matter how tall you are. He played the game with so much passion. That's how I see myself."

"Hopefully, my height won't bother the NFL. You got to have a flaw. There is no perfect player. [San Francisco linebackers assistant] Mike Singletary is coaching me. He's the best that ever played the position. That shows you right there it doesn't matter how tall you are."
-- Buster Davis

Singletary's biography at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Web site lists him at 6-foot, 230. Shorter, yes, but not short.

"He gets your eye first because he's short," Nolan said of Davis, "but when the ball's snapped he's very aggressive and he shows up where the ball is quite a bit. … He's out there and loves to talk. He has a good time with it and that shows confidence. Sometimes it does. Sometimes [talkative] guys are masking things. But in his case, I think he's confident in his ability. Guys like that often make an impression in the NFL because they have something to prove.

"They've always been told, 'You're too short. You can't do this,' and when you find a guy that's inspired by that, which I would guess [Davis is] right now, listening to him and talking to him and being around him, that's going to only help him be a better NFL player when that time comes."

One of the things that Davis will have to prove to the NFL is that he can shed blocks. He appears that he is not just short from head to toe, but from shoulder to fingertip. If the blocker's arms are longer than the arms of the man he's blocking, it's advantage: blocker.

Florida State tailback Lorenzo Booker, another South player, has faced Davis in practice for five years. Booker needs no convincing of what Davis can accomplish. But even he flinched Tuesday as he described Davis' taking on the 6-foot, 265-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain of Alabama.

"Buster's helmet went flying," Booker said.

"It'll be interesting to see how it is when it comes time to tackle and actually make plays in the game, but from my standpoint already what I've seen is just a guy that's probably a so-called overachiever. I'd like to think of him more as just an achiever."
-- 49ers coach Mike Nolan

"It'll be interesting to see how it is when it comes time to tackle and actually make plays in the game," Nolan said, "but from my standpoint already what I've seen is just a guy that's probably a so-called overachiever. I'd like to think of him more as just an achiever."

You can be sure that, on the next snap, Davis came just as hard.

"You got to want to get better every play, every day, every meeting," he said.

Davis has never had any issues tackling. He made exactly 200 tackles over his last two seasons, leading the Seminoles in 2006 with 109 stops, including five sacks.

That puts him right in line with the player who makes Davis believe that he will make it in the NFL. London Fletcher-Baker, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 245, has averaged 98 tackles a season for the last seven years with the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams. The late Sam Mills, a five-time Pro Bowler with New Orleans and Carolina, is the patron saint of 5-foot-9 linebackers.

No one was shorter, wider or loved football more than Mills. Davis hopes to put his name on that short list.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com