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O'HARA: Davis known for his physical style of football

Before he was given a helmet, uniform number, cleats or his own locker, Jarrad Davis was made to feel welcome as a new member of the Detroit Lions.

Matthew Stafford reached out to Davis with a text message on Thursday night, shortly after the Lions had drafted the talented linebacker from Florida in the first round, welcoming Davis to his new team and to the city of Detroit.

"It was really a cool experience," Davis said in a media interview at the Lions' Allen Park headquarters Friday afternoon.

When he got the message, Davis was still at his home in Kingsland, Ga., celebrating with family members and friends after the Lions had drafted him 21st overall in the first round.

Davis joked about how he identified the Lions' franchise quarterback as the person who'd sent the text, even though it wasn't in his file of contacts.

"He put his name in there," Davis said. "If he hadn't put his name in there, I wouldn't have known who it is. I didn't have his number.

"At the same time, it was really cool getting that text from him, just knowing that they accept me and they're excited to go to work, just like I am.

"He just told me, if there's anything I ever need, any questions I have, reach out. Don't be afraid to reach out. I just told him, 'Thank you so much. I look forward to coming to work.'"

Davis has a calling card of his own from the way he played in four seasons at Florida. He's a hitter.

Davis is an all-around athlete with the talent to play all three spots at linebacker. But wherever he lines up, he'll come out hitting. It's part of what attracts him to football.

"It's an experience that's unmatched," he said. "I love hitting. I love striking people. I love exerting force on another person. You can't do it in any other way. You can't do it on the street. You can't do it in anybody's house.

"You have to do it within the lines, within the paint. It's something I chase while I play the game. I need that."

Former Florida teammate Jalen Tabor, who is one of the top cornerbacks in this year's draft, described Davis' playing style in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel as a throwback to an era before the passing game took over the sport.

"He plays such a physical style of football," Tabor said in the interview. "It kind of reminds me like he plays in the '80s. He just wants to knock your head off.

"That's what being a 'Mike' linebacker and playing defense is all about."

Combined with his size (6-1, 238), speed and athleticism, head coach Jim Caldwell doesn't expect Davis to wait long to make an impact on the Lions' defense.

"The physical part is something that comes natural to him," Caldwell said. "Sitting in the room with him and his father (John) today, he talked about his first experience playing football. He was 10 years old, having an opportunity to finally feel the contact out on the field and realize it was something he enjoyed and looked forward to.

"He's a guy who hits you with leverage. He's a knock-back tackler. He's going to help us, and help us immediately.

 "We look for people who are going to be smart, fast and physical," Caldwell said. "It's rare to see a guy with his size and bulk who can move like he moves. He's a guy that's versatile, who certainly will be able to play three downs  -- four downs if we happen to put him on special teams."

Like a lot of players in this year's draft, Davis was an ascending player throughout his four-year college career. He enrolled at Florida in the summer of 2013 largely unheralded. He was the last linebacker on the depth chart.

He made his mark early with his play on special teams – and with his natural leadership qualities.

As a freshman he played all 12 games, with one start at linebacker. He was voted the Gators' MVP on special teams, and he was named a game captain for two games against Missouri and South Carolina.

Davis said Friday that it means more to him to have people comment on his character, leadership and football intelligence than it does on the statistics he compiled on the field.

"You have to be built on something," Davis said. "Character, all the intangibles that come along with football players – you have to understand that football is only part of the day, so to say. You have a whole other life to live outside the game.

"If you can't control yourself, if you can't take care of business in that time, then you're only going to be a football player for so long. I love this game so much, so I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that I'm playing this game for as long as I want to play."

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