ATLANTA – Grady Jarrett pulled Marlon Davidson aside Friday night to go over some technique and provide a pep talk. It wasn't the first time the Pro Bowler has mentored Davidson, a second-round pick who struggled as a rookie and is hellbent on showing out during his second NFL season. It's actually a regular thing.
This was just the preseason opener, a game of no consequence to someone of Jarrett's caliber. The star interior defensive lineman didn't even dress out. It was a far bigger deal for Davidson, who wanted to kick this campaign off right.
Jarrett must've sensed a disturbance in the force and quickly recalibrated his padawan.
"He was just telling me to play fast," Davidson said. "He knew I had some jitters. He said, 'don't worry about that,' be the player that I want to be. After that, for the game, it just changed me. I told him during the game, 'I appreciate you bro.' I needed it."
Jarrett's talked flipped the switch for someone working hard this summer to prove himself worthy of a big part in the defensive line's rotation.
Davidson was awesome in a 23-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, far better than his stat line suggests. His three tackles and a quarterback hit don't accurately encapsulate a performance where his presence was regularly felt. Such is life for interior linemen, who rarely get glory for often painstaking work.
"I was just trying to play fast and not let those double teams get to me," Davidson said. "I'm being real with you. Taking on two guys is not fun. Going out there, playing fast and playing physical was a great feeling."
That's especially true after a rookie year marred by injury and illness. It's also a positive that Davidson's excitement was somewhat subdued. He understands that there's significant work to do, a great journey ahead to reach vast potential. This game, combined with solid the beginning of training camp, is a positive step in his overall development.
"What I'm proud of is that Marlon has been able to grind through some things," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. "He dealt with a lot last year and he's kind of grinding through this camp. It's good to see him have some success. We want to make sure, at the line of scrimmage, how physical we are playing against the run and earning reps to rush the passer in obvious passing situations. I thought Marlon did that today."
The Falcons defensive front was the highlight from a largely forgettable preseason opener, generating four sacks, seven quarterback hits and tons of pressure overall.
Davidson expects plenty of positive on the game film but knows it won't be all sunshine and roses.
"It's a great teach tape," he said. "We did good things. We did bad things. We're human. We have to go back to the office and fix it. I feel like we can get that job done."
That was his suggested team approach. He has a similar one from a personal perspective.
"I'm approaching each day aiming to be better than I was yesterday," Davidson said. "I feel like I left a lot of plays on the field today, that I can do better. Anybody who plays thinks they can do better than what they did. I have to continue to grind and continue to improve."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans in the first preseason game of 2021.