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O'HARA: Davis embracing Midwest football traditions

Jarrad Davis has been quick to embrace the many changes that have confronted him in his transition from college star at the University of Florida to a first-round draft pick who is counted on to make an impact as the Detroit Lions' starting middle linebacker.

There is a lot for any rookie to wrap his arms and mind around in the step up to pro football. Davis embraces it all in his first month of practices in the Lions' offseason workouts. He welcomes the prospect even more as he begins to walk the path of predecessors who have carved the traditions that make up the history of pro football in its heartland.

View photos from Day 7 of Detroit Lions OTA practices.

A window into Davis' personality and football character swung open wide when he was asked last month about some of the traditions of football in the Great Midwest.

The Lions were key figures in creating those traditions. They played in what was known as the Black and Blue division, with legendary defenders on units with such storied names as the Purple People Eaters of Minnesota, the Monsters of the Midway in Chicago and the Fearsome Foursome that made its first stand in Detroit and later had the name transferred west to the Los Angeles Rams.

In less than half a breath, Davis digested the question of tradition and answered from the heart.

"To be honest," Davis replied, "that's the first time I ever heard that. I like it.

"Just looking at kind of the history of the NFL, seeing how long the Lions have actually been around, and one of the first teams to start the league, it's something that I kind of expect."

As he continued his answer, it was clear that Davis had a general knowledge of the origins of pro football in the Midwest, and how the game was played by tough men in weather conditions that often were as brutal as the game itself.

The position of middle linebacker was invented by teams that compete in the NFC North.

Bill George, who played for the Bears from 1952-66, is credited with being the first true middle linebacker. He was joined quickly in his small fraternity by Joe Schmidt of the Lions. Schmidt and George are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The golden path they blazed was followed to Canton by Ray Nitschke of Vince Lombardi's Packers dynasty and Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary of the Bears.

Others who patrolled the middle with distinction include Chris Spielman, a four-time Pro Bowler in his eight seasons with the Lions.

Even the playing conditions – from mostly warm-weather venues at Florida to potential sub-freezing conditions in the NFC North – require an adjustment that Davis says he is eager to make.

Even though the Lions play their home games under the dome at Ford Field, outdoor games at Chicago and Green Bay can be played in the cold, especially late in the season.

Because of an injury, he did not play in Florida's final game last season – a victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Monday, Jan. 2. Game-time temperature for that game was 86 degrees – 16 degrees above Tampa's normal high of 70.

By comparison, it was 68 degrees inside Ford Field but 33 outdoors on Jan. 1, when the Lions hosted the Packers in the final game of last season. The next week, it was 38 degrees at CenturyLink Field in Seattle when the Lions lost to the Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs.

Davis already has warmed to the idea of playing in cold weather.

"This is the part of the country where football kind of got started," he said. "For it to be that tough where you play, especially in that cold weather – you're not going to come out feeling great every time.

"I'm excited to be in this division and play in this city."

He sounds like a rookie who can't wait to leave a mark – even if the foot prints are in the snow.

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