As Will Davis goes through the tiresome process of rehabbing from a torn ACL this offseason, he often thinks back to a conversation with Head Coach John Harbaugh last fall.
Harbaugh told the cornerback he has high hopes for him, and that he has wanted Davis in Baltimore since the 2013 NFL Draft. Davis had just shined against the Pittsburgh Steelers in his Ravens debut two weeks earlier, before the injury abruptly ended his promising season.
The injury was the second time Davis had torn his ACL in the last 11 months, and Harbaugh offered some encouragement before another long recovery.
"He was happy for me in the sense that he felt like that was the kind of kid he expected when he traded for me," Davis said. "That was the kind of kid he wanted out there – just a true cover corner – and he was so excited about it. And I was too.
"His confidence in me definitely boosted my confidence throughout this offseason. And him wanting me to see this place as home, so I'm definitely excited going into next year."
Davis hasn't even be with Baltimore for a full year – the Ravens dealt a seventh-round pick to the Dolphins to acquire him in Week 3 – but he made a strong impression on the head coach.
That conversation with Harbaugh was nearly four months ago, and Davis has made significant strides since that point. He's maintained a regular presence at the Under Armour Performance Center since going down Oct. 11, and he's already back on the field doing agility work.
Davis returned from his first torn ACL to play in the preseason less than nine months after that injury, and he said this recovery is "going way better than last year."
When Davis does get back to full strength, he'll immediately get thrown into a tight competition in the secondary.
"I want to be a starter on the team," Davis said. "That's my mindset coming into it. And it's definitely going to be fun competition coming back."
The secondary competition is going to be one of the most intriguing on the roster this summer. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is likely the only player guaranteed to be in the starting lineup, and the Ravens have a handful of players competing for time at corner and safety.
General Manger Ozzie Newsome is also expected to make that fight even tougher by adding players in free agency and/or the draft.
"Everything is open," Davis said. "It's going to be a battle."
The competition will be particularly notable because the Ravens want to see someone step up in that group. The secondary struggled mightily in the first half of last season – giving up big plays and not creating many turnovers – and the Ravens need improved play from the unit to bounce back next year.
"We all know we got a chip on our shoulders as a secondary," Davis said. "We all know we can't pull the crap we did last year and I think we're all going to come in knowing that. We have to step up."
Davis showed a glimpse of what he's capable of in last year's Week 4 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was one of the few defenders all year to slow down wide receiver Antonio Brown – the Ravens held Brown to 42 receiving yards in the game – and he also came up with a key stop late in the game. A week later, Davis tore his ACL in the first quarter against Cleveland.
The sample size for Davis is small – he played just 30 defensive snaps last year – but the 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback showed enough to make him an intriguing player in 2016.
"To go out and play great, and then for it to happen so quick, it hurt. Yeah, it hurt," Davis said. "But I'm glad I at least had that. Just imagine not having anything, and tearing it in practice or something. I guess things could be worse. It sucked, but it's just one of those things.
"But I know they traded for me for a reason, and as long as I get back – if not better [than before] – then Harbs is going to have all the confidence he has in me, and I'm going to have all the confidence I always have in myself."