When Chip Kelly came here, he instituted sports science, different things, to be the freshest team at the end of the year. Do you see that working?
COACH DAVIS: I do. I really do. I've never been around something as detailed as what Chip brings to the table in the sports science and recovery part of everything.
I'm amazed at the energy and the lack of the soft‑tissue injuries, all those things that we've had. Just the way the guys have bought in. I think you give Chip the credit for putting the structure in place, then the players have been outstanding of actually doing it and believing in it. It takes them doing it and believing in it for it to work.
We've done a nice job. Our players have done a great job.
You see this beneficial here going into December?
COACH DAVIS: Absolutely. I think the healthier you are, the fresher you are, the more energy you bring to the field on Sunday, the more chance you have of winning.
What is different about December games?
COACH DAVIS: I think the NFL has done a great job in kind of switching the schedule around to where a lot of your division games really aren't determined until the very end. Everybody puts their head down one week at a time, grind towards the end.
From our standpoint, the December games are no more or less important than the September ones. The first Washington game was as important as the last Washington game and the Dallas game at the end will be. We have to stay in a focused, narrow‑minded place in order to get a win on a Sunday. Like coach says, we'll pick our head up at the end and say, Here is where we are.
From our side of it, when you're working one day at a time, today is all about who we are, what our scheme is doing, what it's doing poorly, what fundamentals and techniques we're doing well and poorly. That's where the focus is today. Tomorrow will be a little more Arizona. You go one day at a time. Like coach says, put your head down and focus on what needs to be handled today. When we get to the next game, it's about that game.
On our side there's not a big difference in December versus September.
Do you feel the level of intensity rise?
COACH DAVIS: I know you're looking for a yes here, but my answer is that first Washington game on Monday night was everything that the Dallas game will be at the end of the season because they all count one, and they all count an equal one, they really do, as far as getting where you want to go in January.
Early in the season you were talking about the defense being a work in progress even when you were having problems early. At that point as optimistic as you were, did you envision the defense being at the point where it is now going into December?
COACH DAVIS: Absolutely. When you talk about the points, defense, the statistics can go 100 thousand different ways. You can make those things kind of what you want it to say a lot of times.
Points are the points. That's what dictates the wins or the losses. I'm happy the direction we are moving. When you look at it through our eyes, there's so much work to be done, so many areas we can get better, have to get better in.
If you asked me early on, would I take where we are right now with the points, I'd say yes.
Do you feel vindicated?
COACH DAVIS: I don't think 'vindicated' is the word I'd use. Again, I like where we are in our stage. But we are so far from the finish line, so far from being a defense we want to be. It's a collective effort from the players and coaches.
We just want to put our heads down and get better against Arizona than we were against Washington.
What has this season been like for you personally after your first two trips at defensive coordinator?
COACH DAVIS: It's nice. You never really lose confidence in yourself. There's so many factors. You take any team, any offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams, you can see where is their roster as far as how far along are they in a championship team. Where do you start, what tools are you using. There's so many different scenarios.
I think there's a lot of great coaches that are struggling right now. Variations throughout the league.
It is nice to work with the group of assistants I'm working with. They're outstanding. I'm nowhere to close to the smartest man in the room on the defensive side of the ball. The players are diving into the scheme, doing what we're asking them to do. The thing that jumps off the table or the film is the effort our guys are playing with. They view themselves as a high‑effort defense. We're not a bunch of Pro Bowl names, pretty faces, we're scrapping and keeping people out of the end zone. It's hard work and high effort that's getting it done.
Do you have relationships with people in Arizona?
COACH DAVIS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I think it was a great organization to work for. The coaching staff has pretty much been flipped over. Freddie [Kitchens] was there when I was there, Steve [Keim], Jason [Licht], that crew in the personnel department. Good people, great organization. It was a good experience.
What did you take out of the two years there?
COACH DAVIS: I think the whole process. We went to the Super Bowl. We built a team that got them to the Super Bowl, which was neat. Then we took a hard dive.
You kind of see how slippery the slope is in the profession of NFL coaching. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody. It can turn on you so quick.
I think you appreciate the opportunities when you get them, and you work your tail off knowing no matter what success or failures you have, right around the corner you have to be prepared for anything that's coming and anything can be coming.
Who is the smartest guy in the defensive room?
COACH DAVIS: On the defensive side of the ball? I don't know. You guys try to figure that one out (laughter).
You talk about your defensive line, how it's come together, what is Jerry Azzinaro's part in that?
COACH DAVIS: Every day, all day with those defensive linemen. He's an outstanding coach, a great idea guy for all of our schemes that we're using.
One of the things, when you try to do schemes, you've got to do what the players can take to the field. What the players can take to the field is usually how well they're taught at the position level.
Our guys are off the charts from Jerry, Erik [Chinander] with the D‑line, Rick Minter and Mike Dawson, then Billy McGovern at outside backers, John [Lovett] with the secondary. These guys make the plans, hit the field on Sunday, when the errors are down. Really every game is filled with errors, but when you lessen your errors, don't beat yourself first, that's kind of the first step toward winning NFL games.
Our position coaches, and it starts with Jerry at the D‑line, they are drilled and work and rework the techniques every day. That's why that group has progressed is because of the teaching they're getting.
How much do you base things on scheme and then the skill sets of your players?
COACH DAVIS: I think it's a combination. First, it's a real honest look at what we're doing well and what we're not doing well. Sometimes there's a scheme that you really want to punch through and make it work, but it's not working with this group of guys. So you've got to be bright enough to say, Forget it. Let's move and try to find another way to get something close with what these players can do. That's the first part.
The second part is, what are we lacking in this scheme that may benefit us going forward. You can only ask so much of the players to grab so much. You can sit there as coaches, come up with a thousand different things. Unless the players can take it to the field on Sunday, understand it where they can play fast, it's not worth it.
The defensive line is pretty young. What is the ceiling on these guys? Have they scratched the surface?
COACH DAVIS: I don't know the answer to that. The ceiling always has a lot of variables with it. I love where we're starting. I love the direction and how fast we're climbing with the young group. The ceiling, I don't know. I've seen a lot of guys take big steps in years two, three, four. I've seen guys hit a slump in two, three, four.
You switched Trent Cole and Brandon Graham to outside linebacker this year. Cole obviously got two sacks this past game. Brandon made a tackle for the loss. How has their development been in that transition? Are you seeing it take shape?
COACH DAVIS: Yes, I am. All the times in my career I've been part of taking a defensive end, moving him to outside backer, you try to position switch them, it takes one year. It takes a year to fully get it. It takes all those reps. You can get it on the board, you can get it in a classroom, but until you can make it show up on game day to where you're doing the techniques correctly, winning your battle, and I know that's starting to show with our outside backers that we turned over, moved in that direction. We're just short of a year. Obviously we've got five games left. Billy McGovern has done a great job of getting those guys to switch because that is a big undertaking. The biggest part of that undertaking is where their eyes are. When you put your hand on the ball, when you stand up, you got a whole bunch of offensive linemen, backfield sets, you're in a two‑point, a lot changes from your eyes to your brain, how to react. I think Billy has done a great job with those guys.
Would you say they're ahead of schedule?
COACH DAVIS: I would say they're ahead of schedule, because usually it's a year, yes, sir.