May 29, 2013; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) takes a hand off from quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during organized team activities at the Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Dominique Davis, after serving as the No. 3 quarterback and not playing a down last season, wants to secure the No. 2 quarterback spot.
The position is open because the Falcons elected not to re-sign Luke McCown, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
“I’m just trying to be sharp in the meeting room and apply it out here on the field,” Davis said. “I’m trying to show these coaches that I’m out here working hard, trying to learn and trying to secure this No. 2 spot.”
Davis dazzled at times during the 2012 exhibition season as he completed 33 of 56 passes (58.9 percent) for 402 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions and compiled a quarterback rating of 76.6.
He feels more in control this offseason.
“It’s a lot slower,” Davis said. “Just as far as calling the play in the huddle, the cadence and just sounding more confident in the huddle.”
The former star at East Carolina, who passed for more than 7,100 yards in two seasons, was undrafted after not being invited to the NFL scouting combine.
He paid a registration fee to participate in a regional combine with 500 players at Flowery Branch. He moved on to the super-regional combine in Detroit.
Davis has backed Matt Ryan before. He started his career at Boston College and was a redshirt freshman during Ryan’s senior season.
In 2008, he helped lead the Eagles to the ACC Championship game. He later transferred transferred to Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College.
He led Fort Scott to an 11-0 record and a showdown with Cam Newton and Blinn (Texas) College for the national junior college championship. Newton’s squad edged Davis and Fort Scott 31-26 when they returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown with 15.4 seconds left in the game.
After junior college, he signed with East Carolina and became the first quarterback at the school to complete more than 700 passes for 7,000 yards or more as he had 727 completions in 1,103 attempts for 7,192 yards.
Ryan on contract: Ryan said his contract situation was not a distraction and again stated his desire to remain with the Falcons.
“All I need to worry about is taking care of my business on the field,” Ryan said. “I have to do everything that I can to be the best player that I can be. I’ve always had the opinion that if you do that, the rest of the stuff falls in place. I’ll kind of leave that with people experienced in dealing with that, my agents and with our front office.
“I have got a lot of confidence in both sides that we’re going to get this done and hopefully I’ll be here for a long time.”
Deep at wide receiver: Wide receiver Drew Davis, who signed in 2011 as an undrafted player, has carved out a niche on the roster.
“He had his first touchdown catch against Philadelphia last year, so he’s gotten a taste of what it means to score a touchdown as a wideout,” coach Mike Smith said. “He’s gotten better. The thing he has improved immensely on is his contribution on special teams.”
Davis, fighting to be the top receiver behind Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, must continue to play well on special teams.
JACKSON HOPES SIGNING WITH ATLANTA MEANS SUPER BOWL:
ATLANTA — The St. Louis Rams, who slipped into the playoffs at 8-8, arrived at the Georgia Dome on Jan. 15, 2005. Steven Jackson, then a Rams’ rookie and the understudy to Marshall Faulk, remembers the night: “Like the second play of the game, Michael Vick runs to the left for the sideline. He thinks he’s bottled in and skirts for 70.”
Actually, it was the third play, and Vick’s gain was for 47 yards, but you get the gist. The 47-17 loss the Falcons inflicted on Jackson’s Rams still rankles. That galling Saturday remains the last time he has taken part in a playoff game.
Eight 1,000-yard seasons later, Jackson is a Falcon. He signed here as the presumptive replacement for Michael Turner, who had been the Falcons’ feature back since 2008.
Three times a Pro Bowler, Jackson has been a very good player for nearly a decade, but he wants what all players, even bad ones, want. He wants a championship.
Jackson rushed for 10,135 yards as a Ram. If you’ve had him on your fantasy football team, you’ve come to appreciate him. If not, probably not. It’s not easy to gain 10,135 yards in utter obscurity, but St. Louis was so far down the past eight seasons it might as well have been Siberia.
Said Jackson: “It’s one of those things where someone reads your stats or sees you make a one-handed catch and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time.’”
He has. He was drafted out of Oregon State in 2004. (He’s from Las Vegas, which coincidentally is the hometown of Gerald Riggs, the Falcons’ all-time leading rusher.) Jackson will turn 30 next month, and his big body -- he’s 6-foot-2, 240 pounds -- has borne the brunt of 2,395 NFL carries. As a concession to wear and tear, the new Falcon has given up gluten.
“The one thing I kept hearing is (about) your ability to recover week to week,” he said. “When you first come into the NFL, you’re ready for Wednesday practice. As you get older, it takes longer and longer throughout the week to get ready for the next game. I’ve learned through my research that if you go to a gluten-free diet, it helps with inflammation and it helps you recover. Things don’t linger as long.”
What did he stop eating? “The biggest thing is bread. I was never a Big Mac guy, but I love pizza. My mom is from the South, so you’re talking about cornbread. A lot of things that I grew up loving, I had to give up.”
Does he feel different? “Actually, I do. I feel the effects from practice to practice. I feel my legs are not heavy. I feel like I have strength.”
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is a vegetarian of long standing, but his conversion wasn’t without regression. After a few meatless weeks, he yielded to temptation and made for McDonald’s. Sitting alone in an empty football stadium, Dimitroff scarfed down a Big Mac and fries, feeling both satiated and ashamed.
“I have a very similar guilt trip,” Jackson said. “I had a pizza three weeks into the diet. I felt like a total slob. I felt like I let myself down.”
Ah, well. It’s early yet. With a little practice, he might make the leap to vegetarian or, as is the case with new Falcons teammate Tony Gonzalez, to out-and-out vegan. Laughing, Jackson said: “Give me a couple of years on that one.”
If there’s a takeaway from Jackson’s dietary modification, it’s that he’s enough of a professional to do what needs doing to maintain a standard of personal excellence. “My outlook on life is, we’re going to have to adapt to things as we get older. The body and the metabolism slows down. You’re going to have to rely on your knowledge more than your physical attributes. Why wait until you’re forced to do it? Why not start it now so it’s not so hard?”
Jackson prides himself on being a three-down back, which not many are anymore. (Turner wasn’t.) Jackson can catch -- 407 career receptions for 3,324 yards -- and block. “The running backs I grew up idolizing were all three-down backs, like Thurman Thomas and Marcus Allen. You name it, I studied that guy. I just love the game of football.”
The Falcons got their money’s worth from Turner, who left as the best free-agent signing in team history. Jackson has the potential to be as good or better, and he has spent 8 1/2 years waiting to grace another postseason. He didn’t come here to take early retirement. He came to achieve one long-simmering goal.
“A successful season for me,” Jackson said, “is getting to the playoffs and getting to the Super Bowl. If it doesn’t happen, I want to make sure I’m not the reason we fall short.”