Discover more from Go Long
‘We’re going to wreck shit:’ Carlton Davis bows to no man
He plans to “wreck shit” in 2023 and he’ll make sure the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers team follows his lead. The shutdown cornerback offers a warning to the NFL... and his rise explains it all.
TAMPA, Fla. — Pressure isn’t the Super Bowl. Across the street, Carlton Davis and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bloodied the Kansas City Chiefs into submission 2 ½ years ago. The prospect of Mahomes! and Tyreek! and Kelce! did not faze Davis. Not even after the aptly named “Cheetah” toasted him two months prior. One week before the biggest game of his life, Davis was shockingly relaxed. He promised sweet revenge and, this time, his Bucs embarrassed an all-time offense.
Pressure isn’t seven playoff games, nor 15 regular-season primetime spots the last three years on a lonesome island.
Nor the SEC. Nor the cutthroat high school football scene in Miami.
Davis brings you back further. To age 12 at the neighborhood park. This was real pressure. Precisely when he grew a rugged exoskeleton that’d last to this day. He can picture it all now and the scene’s almost too crazy to believe. Strangers telling him all week “Y’all gotta do it!” Entire communities descending upon the field for gameday. The DJ. The screams. The fights. Those same strangers now gambling $8,000 on his ability to take a sweep to the house. This is the world 12-year-olds outside of South Florida could never understand. Long before it was perfectly legal for Americans en masse to squander their kids’ college funds with a one-touch app that fattens the pockets of NFL owners, high-stakes gambling on youth football was intertwined into the Miami culture.
Locals would quite literally wager their rent money. A lost bet was devastating.
“When they lose?” Davis says. “Somebody will die. Pop-pop-pop! And everybody’s running. It’s, ‘Oh, shit.’ A combination of liquor, gambling and the intensity of the event. Aggressive people who are already naturally aggressive.”
Hardly a mean tweet from a screen-addicted coward in need of a hobby.
Go Long is your forever home for longform journalism in pro football. Humanizing profiles. Penetrating deep dives revealing how teams truly operate. A community of subscribers.
No ads, no corporate masters, no pandering. We’re completely powered by our readers:
When young Carlton heard that pop-pop-pop, he had two choices: Hit the deck immediately or sprint to shelter. Growing up like this desensitized many of those kids scattering all directions, too. As boys became men, many also became — in Davis’ words — true “killers.” They started toting guns in their backpack out of necessity. No telling who’d try them any given day in the streets. Many are now locked up for life.
“People who are in jail now — who killed people — I grew up with them,” Davis says. “Played with them. Broke bread with them. Hung out with them. Sweated with them. Became a blood brother with them. Through grinding and football. So, going through shit, being around shit, a lot of shit don’t faze you.”
Including the harsh reality now facing his 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is a team fully expected to implode post-Tom Brady. Speaking of gambling, the Bucs’ Super Bowl odds are +15000 on BetMGM. Only Arizona is worse. Nobody’s expecting a pulse from a team staging a Baker Mayfield vs. Kyle Trask quarterback competition this summer. Which… perplexes Davis. This is also a team that won a Super Bowl in 2020. Then, nearly won another in 2021. A team that will not retreat because he won’t allow it. As the 26-year-old enters Year 6 of his pro career, he has become something more than a shutdown cornerback.
Carlton Davis will be the force of nature keeping Tampa Bay in contention.
If this sounds like an impossible proposition to skeptics, it most certainly is not to him.
“We’re about to do it to ‘em,” Davis says. “Anybody who feels we’ve lost Tom — and lost something — is going to be in for a rude awakening. A rude awakening. Tom was a great addition for us, but obviously it’s a team sport. Obviously, you need components to be successful. We still have those components. And I’m only getting better.”
Asked what this “rude awakening” entails, Davis tilts his head down before dramatically lifting up his eyes to meet yours.
He then issues a warning to the rest of the NFL.
“We’re going to wreck shit. Like, wreck shit. Interceptions. Turnovers. Plays will be made. I will say. Plays. Will. Be. Made.”
The tone is more guarantee than prediction. No statements at 1 Bucs Place are softened with fluff, cliches, qualifiers. Mainly because Davis wants everyone inside the building to adopt the same snarl. More than ever, he views his responsibility to lead the Buccaneers as a “duty.” To him, there’s a standard to uphold. Around the corner, right in the lobby, you’ll find life-sized silver statues of Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Warren Sapp. A crew celebrating a Super Bowl exactly as his did. When people hear Tampa Bay, he still wants them to think defense. His unit rendered Patrick Mahomes a toddler scampering around the basement with the remote control for 497 yards before attempting to pass or getting sacked. Davis insists they’re even better now.
“We’ve got to be the best in the f--king NFL right now,” Davis says. “That’s how I’m trying to be. And you can only do that, first, starting with you. And then allowing your play to be contagious to everybody else.”
If the way he relentlessly attacks the sport becomes “contagious,” the Bucs will absolutely compete. This sport has never been about one player and — most importantly — football is forever played on everything that cannot be quantified via mathematical equation or lab-rat drill at the Combine. When 22 players are colliding at such ludicrous angles and speeds and blunt force, something profound must be at play for a team to win: Passion.
Davis gets this. So, no odds are ever daunting to him.
To understand why his rhetoric can become reality, first go back in time. To Miami Gardens, Fla. This brash, tatted corner is proof that any kid can take all of the redeeming qualities of the streets and harness them for good, all while avoiding the temptation to slip a gun into that backpack. Davis was never one to bro hug everyone and shout — as he imitates here — “That’s my dawg! That’s my dawg!” Bad friends ultimately lead you down bad paths, he says. The company he kept also didn’t want to get sucked into this environment.
To Davis, staying clean is a decision. Not luck. He actively refused to be a statistic.
This made him a rarity in his sport and, now, bolder than ever.
Back in 2020, his Bucs slayed a trio of Hall of Famers. He listens to those names read aloud — Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Mahomes — and, under his breath, mutters a reminder. “Ran through them. Get the f--k outta here.” As far as Carlton Davis is concerned, there’s no reason why Tampa Bay cannot run through another gauntlet.
“And our f--king division is worse than what it was before. So, we run through the division. Get to the playoffs. Run through the playoffs and it’s the Super Bowl.”
Got it, everyone?
‘It’s a jungle’
Long before those blinding NFL lights lurched over him, Carlton Davis savored the bright lights on his grandmother’s street in South Florida. Because if his crew played street football here, games could last forever. It was loud. It was heated. It was also 1 a.m. Neighbors would justifiably pop their heads out of the front door to scream “Get inside!” and “It’s the middle of the night!” Whenever this happened, the boys would simply hustle to the next block and resume.
This was his childhood. All summer long.
Wake up at 9. Devour a bowl of cereal. Play all day. The only time Davis hit pause was when his Mom got home around 3. He and his brothers would rush inside to clean up — “so she won’t beat our ass” — eat dinner and then sprint back outside to play some more. Carlton was running around with a toy football early as 2 years old. All four brothers roughhoused as long as he can remember. And on the street, they’d migrate block… to block… to block… and pick up new rivalries along the way. Carlton pretends to pick up a controller and play a video game, mocking today’s youth. There were zero technologies planting his ass on a couch all day. He lived outside.
If they got thirsty, they’d find the nearest hose attached to a house and guzzle water. If they found a field, they’d go full tackle football. Otherwise, games were played in the street where tackling was off-limits. Uh, well, technically. Full contact was still permitted on the strip of grass between the street and sidewalk. And, most days, someone would inevitably blast an opponent into the pavement anyway. Blood gushed from a wound and a fight broke out.
Before he knew it, Carlton was playing for a park team with all that money at stake. With bullets flying.
More than 30,000 children aged 5 to 15 played in the South Florida Youth Football League during Davis’ time.
As ex-NFL corner, and South Florida-native, Al Harris pointed out in an ESPN investigation then, it’s obvious who’s exchanging tens of thousands of dollars in the stands: drug dealers. Harris grew up in the youth league, and so did his son. One gambler once told him they had a point spread set for that week’s game with a $20,000 pot. For one super bowl matchup, the pot reached $75,000. As a thank you, many kids were rewarded wads of cash.
Marijuana smoke filled the air. People drank alcohol out in the open. A different world.
Says Davis: “Miami football is a religion, so you live and die by the park.”
He’s correct to label this humid pocket of the country sink-or-swim. The NFL is teeming with survivors. But for every Teddy Bridgewater, every Isaiah McKenzie, every Dalvin Cook, there’s a long list of peers who couldn’t hack this war of attrition.
“If you’re weak,” Davis says, “you’re going to get weeded out quickly. Because the environment is so hostile as far as being judgmental. People coming from bad homes, so they’re bringing it to school. As far as the violent part. People get bullied all the time in Miami.”
Davis sees that I’m jotting something down in a notebook and stops himself. He must cut in.
“Don’t put that I got bullied. I never got bullied.”
Then, he continues. When kids get bullied, it’s a slippery slope. Those who don’t stand up for themselves become prey.
Many kids in school lack both a Mom and Dad back home. They’re cycling through the foster care system. Perhaps living with a grandparent. “There are no training wheels,” Davis adds. They’re forced to face life itself — Where to live? What to eat? — far too soon. Such day-to-day dilemmas warp development. Kids grow up before they’re ready. He’d step into a room and see three classmates who are homeless. Another herd of kids solely dependent on the school for food. In the wild, Davis realized he needed to assert himself as an alpha. A lion, not a gazelle. His got into his first fight in elementary school and his reputation was bolstered by one of his older brothers brawling all the time. The “Davis” family name inherently came with bite. (“I was intimidating to people,” Carlton adds.) This brother, three years older, was a hot head who thoroughly enjoyed fighting the most ruthless bullies in the school.
Yes, the Davis boys lived in the hood. No, they weren’t “hood kids.” To explain, Carlton shows off a tattoo on his neck that reads: May peace be upon you. Both of his mother’s parents were part of the Nation of Islam. Back to the Malcolm X era. Under the Islamic faith, this was a disciplined household. The fact that the Davis boys didn’t sag their pants — “We weren’t ghetto as f--k,” Carlton adds — tended to piss off the more unruly peers.
During pickup games, Carlton says such “thugs” would (constantly) test his brother and his brother would (constantly) knock them out.
“It’s a jungle,” Davis says. “I had my brothers. We were a team together. People hate when you’re not a thug.”
The difference — always — was his own upbringing.
Start with Dad. Carlton II was in the Navy and started training his boys early. Very early. As in age 4. Before Carlton III could even join his older brothers on the field, Dad sent him to run laps ‘round the park. Then from age 5… to 6… to 7… he did the same exercises that hardened his father in the service. All sorts of pushups. Pullups. Sit-ups. Step-ups. Squats. Always accompanied by endless laps through the neighborhood in 100-degree heat. Many days, Carlton hoped his Dad outright forgot about workouts, especially those Saturday trips to the “sand pit.” This had nothing to do with South Beach, any beach, which might as well of been located on Mars. Rather, adjacent to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium where there’s currently a Wal-Mart, a cigar lounge and a Sonic, there used to be nothing but sand.
Son ran laps here, too. He still remembers the stray dogs loitering. They were feral and tried nipping at his ankles. Carlton III started running with a stick to poke them away.
He essentially received Navy basic training. As a child.
“They pushed the limit there. And they don’t give a f--k. So, he was pushing the limit all the time and we’d be exhausted. Like, ‘Oh shit,’” says Davis, as if punched in the gut. “It would be really intense. Before you worked out, you’d probably be shitting yourself. Just because you’re nervous.”
Then, there was Mom. A correctional officer for 25 years in Fort Lauderdale, Sonia Mannings could be tough. But, mostly, Mom introduced the arts to Carlton. When he wasn’t pushed to the point of passing out in the sandpit, he was at poetry slams. He was on stage reciting poems as the opening act for Mom. Poetry slams were hot in Miami back then, so there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
Alone, on stage, he learned to eliminate fear. Public speaking didn’t make him sweat one drop.
He joined the chess club in elementary school. Identified as a gifted student, Davis was placed in a magnate school. Albeit one in what he labels Miami Gardens’ worst neighborhood: the Bunche Park area. North Dade Center for Modern Languages, “CML,” taught first through fifth graders French and Spanish and, oh, don’t mind those bums strung out on drugs outside. Or those “real-deal killers” hanging out. Or the fact that these private-school kids of all backgrounds (Jewish, Hispanic, etc.) shared the same building, same cafeteria as middle-school bullies in the hood.
All of this made him.
His own life was not easy. When Carlton III was in middle school, Dad bailed. They do not have a good relationship. All son says is that it didn’t work out with him and his mother. There’s “bad blood,” and he leaves it at that. Mannings was his superhero. Many times, the family’s water was shut off because interest rates skyrocketed and bills mounted. Once, Mannings went to court to fight for her family’s house. She worked overtime. She made sure Carlton imagined a future beyond Miami Gardens. Son might’ve broken curfew… snuck girls into the house… gotten into a fight at the movies… and ran out of gas driving the car. But he never joined a gang. He avoided temptations. Even though they lived near the Dolphins stadium, he never went to a Dolphins game. Never went to a Heat game. Never had a clue what South Beach entailed. Still, this “other” Miami — the beach, the money, the flash — is forever dangled in front of kids as a utopian alternate universe.
You know it exists. You know this “fast life” is one conversation with one shady character away.
“It’s always in front of you — those bright lights,” Davis says. “A lot of corruption, a lot of fast-talking people, a lot of fast money being made. So, it sucks a lot of people in as far as doing the illegal stuff to get ahead. Because essentially, you program yourself to say, ‘Damn, this is what real money is.’ You’re young. People fall for it all the time. The chains. The cars. The gold. The lifestyle. The water. The beach. The Miami lifestyle they sell you. You see it commercialized. But you don’t even know where that’s at. You’re like, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve lived in Miami my whole life!’ You’re just confined to that box.”
Sticking to a gameplan does not guarantee safety. Isaiah McKenzie lived nearby and, like Davis, used football as an escape. Even then, he’s seen a dead body on his doorstep. A bullet grazed his arm. Those actively trying to avoiding danger can still be killed. The sight of dead bodies can seem common as cardinals at the bird feeder. Around Bunche Park, Davis saw countless homeless people who OD’ed.
He hated when his park team traveled there to face the Cowboys.
There was a shooting, he insists, every time.
“You don’t want to play there at night because you’ll probably get shot at,” Davis says. “You can confirm this with anybody from Miami Gardens. It’s nothing but hood. It’s a hazard to go there and hang out.”
His answer, always, was football and natural selection steered him toward one contour of the field.
He was forever the best player on every field, every street. Now, the sport was abruptly slipping out of his life. Two moments should’ve broken Carlton Davis. First, when puberty stretched him out practically overnight. A running back his entire life, he looked in the mirror as an eighth-grader and didn’t recognize the gangly kid staring back at him. Uncoordinated, awkward, he wanted to quit. Until, of course, Mom dragged him out of the car with her bare hands and shouted, “I ain’t letting you quit!”
The second time, he was in ninth grade. At wide receiver, Davis could shake defenders cold, but there was just one minor problem. He couldn’t catch. “You suck!” he recalls coaches sniping.
Yet even though his Navy-training father wasn’t around, Carlton’s response was automatic. He switched to safety and trained himself. Davis lifted more weights than ever. Churned out pushups to the point of collapse. Ate nonstop. Got on Creatine.
Turned himself into a monster on the football field.
“I was f--king killing it in the weight room every day,” Davis says. “That was one of the times you’re either going to sink or swim. I’m like, ‘I’m going to swim.’”
That 10th grade year, one Miami Norland coach told Davis he should play cornerback and cited a blueprint. A few years prior, he had another receiver switch to corner and that kid’s name was Xavier Rhodes, the Minnesota Vikings’ top cover man. Initially, Davis interpreted the coach’s spiel as a load of BS and opted to stay at safety where he proceeded to cannon-blast anything in his scope. Unleashing anger on defense felt so, so natural. Davis implores us all to dust off his highlight film on YouTube and, sweet fancy moses, he isn’t exaggerating when he says he “knocked heads off.” This carnage is how Carlton Davis earned his nickname, “C-Murda.”
Eventually, Davis did take the advice. He slid over to cornerback, became a four-star recruit, signed with Auburn, was drafted by the Buccaneers in the second round of the ’18 draft and, all along, realized he was born for life on the island.
All corners brag about going 1-on-1 with the best wide receivers in the sport when, in reality, they’re likely getting help over the top. In Tampa, it’s true. No coach in the sport is addicted to blitzing quite like Todd Bowles. Every rule may be rigged against Davis, but as long as he has those five yards off the line of scrimmage to use his hands? To fight? He won’t complain. He treats this strip of grass like that anything-goes zone along the sidewalk back in Miami Gardens. Zero in on Davis any given Sunday to witness football in its purest form. Most of the country was first introduced to him when he famously sparred with Michael Thomas through the Bucs’ Super Bowl run.
When the New Orleans Saints wideout sniped at Davis on Twitter — posts he has since deleted — Davis blasted away: “I bodied you 3 games in a row lil dude in cover 1 goofball ! And ima dawg yo lil ass again next year so you better work on them routes !” He then shared a photoshopped picture of Thomas flexing and crying and fans assumed this rivalry was personal.
It was. But, honestly, Davis adores each rendezvous each Sunday equally.
In so many terms.
“I personally enjoy f--king up everybody,” Davis says. “I personally enjoy me being the best version. I enjoy taking it to people. I enjoy making them pay. It’s not a particular person. I’m personally invested into my career being great. That comes with me f--king you up. Locking you down. Putting my hands on you.”
The Cincinnati Bengals game is at the tip of his tongue. Last season, Davis shadowed Ja’Marr Chase and held the sublime wide receiver to 60 yards on 13 targets. He began the game with an interception. Soon after, on third and 3, he dislodged a back-shoulder, Joe Burrow bullet from Chase’s grip. As Davis re-holstered a pair of imaginary swords into his belt, color man Tony Romo said it’s plays like this that still make the Bucs “a championship defense.” On a third-and-goal — mouthguard out, all alone, in Chase’s grill — Davis did it again.
He jammed the wideout at the line. Turned his head in time. Batted Burrow’s ball away with more sword theatrics.
The Bengals won, but their full duel is worth your time.
Nothing in sports resembles the hype of an old-school boxing bout like a No. 1 WR vs. a No. 1 CB because instilling fear in your adversary matters as much as a well-timed uppercut. Head games are always at play with the most elite receivers morphing into A-list celebrities. Davis himself cites the discrepancy. While the average fan knows no difference between Carlton Banks from Fresh Prince and Carlton Davis — he has 19.2K followers on Twitter and 48.7K on Instagram — there’s Chase with 364K and 1.3 million. There’s Justin Jefferson (1.5M on IG) popularizing “The Griddy.” He may soon be the richest non-QB in the sport. There’s Stefon Diggs (1.7M) screaming “I’m him!” into the nearest camera. His feed is a flamboyant stream of photoshoots and trips to Paris’ Fashion Week. There’s Tyreek Hill (2M), one of the sport’s fastest players ever, sticking a peace sign in your face en route to the end zone.
All cast an aura that freaks out cornerbacks. So many lose before the game begins. Yet Davis has never been afraid of anything. That’s why he had no problem calling his shot to Go Long ahead of Round 2 vs. Tyreek.
With the word “lowkey” right in his social-media handles, he takes pride in being an Anti-Influencer.
“So when I f--k people up, and you take the stats, that’s all off the strength of my technique and respect,” Davis says. “You ask other players who’s the best corner, they probably won’t say my name because I don’t have the clout and the hype behind. But when they come and see me or if you ask offensive coordinators — What do you think about him? — regardless of what they say, the film’s going to show I f--ked them up. They don’t win reps against me. They don’t catch passes against me. They don’t get the same average yards against me. The f--cking people on Twitter are f--king mad at me because their f--king fantasy points were shitty this week. If you had Ja’Marr Chase on your fantasy team? You’re mad! Who’s responsible for that? I followed him the whole game.”
His volume rises. He’s getting angry.
“Somebody’s doing this! Somebody’s consistently doing this.”
The same alpha who college teammate Ryan Davis remembers blasting a Georgia receiver into a cooler and who, in 2020, changed his number to No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant. A kindred spirit, the Black Mamba was beyond cutthroat.
Nobody forgets their first impression of Carlton Davis. He’s unlike anything Bucs teammates have encountered. If there was a way to scientifically gauge an NFL player’s intensity level, Davis would easily test in the 99th percentile with Kobe. When second-year corner Zyon McCollum first started practicing, his position coach kindly pointed out that the leader of the room, Davis, was a little crazy. McCollum wasn’t sure what he meant at first. He witnessed Davis’ competitive spirit up close during games and… yeah. “OK,” McCollum told himself. “He might be a little crazy.”
“You really don’t want to be on his bad side,” McCollum says, “and every receiver in the NFL is on his bad side.”
The first time young corners see Davis joust with Bucs receivers 1 on 1, they’re floored by his bizarre technique. How he instantly gets his hands on them. “Like he’s boxing,” McCollum adds. With long arms (32 ¾ inches), he’s concerned about one thing and one thing only: Punching the receiver’s chest. Nothing else matters. Not the coverage, not the high stakes if he whiffs. He tries to punch holes through 6-foot-5 and 5-foot-8 receivers alike. It felt like McCollum was watching a clinic.
Granted, this leads to brawls. A common sight at Bucs practice is players peeling Davis out of a scrum, and once he’s out? “You’ll see a big smile on his face,” McCollum says. “He’s having the time of his life.” Naturally, the temperature spiked when he faced Tyreek again during Tampa Bay’s joint practices with Miami last summer. The Dolphins receivers hated how handsy he was at the line of scrimmage and their complaining only compelled Davis to agitate them more. And more. To the point where — surprise, surprise — he was pulled out of a melee. McCollum remembers the corner throwing his arms up in comical innocence before informing Miami players that their receivers coach needed to do a better job.
Press coverage this aggressive is mostly a relic in today’s game. Swing and miss, and you’re surrendering a 70-yard touchdown to that diminutive receiver. Elite receivers don’t only possess 4.3 speed. They’re perfecting their releases and footwork all offseason long at multimillion-dollar facilities. So, for Davis, it’s Russian Roulette. Much like a young quarterback needing to be careful how much Favre or Mahomes they emulate, young corners in Tampa know they can’t go Full C-Murda.
McCollum doesn’t even view Davis’ technique as a true “technique.”
It’s unorthodox. Pure combat.
“He’ll lift both feet off the ground into his wide stance,” McCollum says, “and then he’ll shift his hands out — and you won’t think his hands are moving — but he’s able to mirror guys. So, he’ll crowd the line of scrimmage and the only thing going through his head is: ‘Put my hands on him. Punch the receiver.’ It’s so weird because a rookie like me will see that and say, ‘I’m going to try to do exactly what that was.’ And then you do it and the receiver is using a wide release and getting around you.
“I’ve never seen anybody in the league use the technique that he uses. He’s going off of passion, grit and athleticism.”
Stats don’t do him justice. Never before have quarterbacks been spitting the ball out so lightning fast. Per PFF, Burrow got rid of the ball in 2.51 seconds last season. Brady was best was 2.38 seconds. Every millisecond matters. When Davis punches a receiver, he disrupts this timing. Quarterbacks look his way — toward their WR1 — and are often forced to then waste 1 ½ seconds turning their head to the other side of the field.
When this happens, Davis has effectively eliminated half the field.
He still needs to work on those hands. Davis has only seven career picks, a number he vows to drastically increase. But when it comes to pure coverage, in his mind, there’s no debate he’s the best. He’s offended the question is even asked. The turning point was Tyreek’s 269-yard, three-touchdown detonation in Week 12 of 2020. Davis’ legs were admittedly dead in Round 1. He admits he didn’t take care of his body like he should’ve then, and it showed. Tyson knockouts this ugly end careers.
“Can you take a punch?” Davis asks. “I can take a f--king punch. I’m going to bounce back and punch you right back. That is what happened. Not a touchdown. Best offense ever to play the game. Nine points.”
This doesn’t sound like a man prepared to concede the 2023 season for the draft rights to USC’s Caleb Williams. Nor does he view this Buccaneers defense as the same dominant unit that powered a 31-9 Super Bowl win over Kansas City in the rematch. No, it’s better. Much better. He’s thinking trophies, not tanking.
Tread lightly, everyone. It’s July. It’s officially Power Ranking Season. No amount of boosters can protect us from becoming infected by this highly-effective, highly-contagious grift so, please, consult with your physician ASAP to chart out a plan. Lists… upon lists… upon mindless lists are currently filling air time on cable television, podcasts and generating a bounty of clicks to appease advertisers.
The consensus? There’s no need for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to report to training camp in three weeks. None. Zilch. Tom Brady’s retirement, with no succession plan in place, has produced one monolith take of looming doom.
Carlton Davis sees the prognostications and would like to relay a message.
“You don’t know shit,” he says. “Nobody knows shit until it happens.”
True, endless offseason darlings are exposed as frauds. There’s always a team that shocks us all, too. Last year, it was the Seattle Seahawks. He’s correct to note that a team’s success, above all, boils down to habits. Davis wants every player on the roster thinking, Today, I’m trying to make a play. If the Buccaneers go as crazy as he did back on the streets of Miami — if his attitude becomes contagious — a winning season is inevitable.
“People are feeling, ‘Damn. OK. This is what it’s like to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer,’” Davis says. “For the young guys who are still trying to learn and still trying to understand what it’s like to be a true professional: This is what it looks like it. Then, you show ‘em. You tell ‘em. You don’t allow them to make the same mistakes and you try to correct them. We say, ‘You play for us. So, we can’t allow you to play at this level. I’m going to be on your ass about raising your play.’”
He sees a million ways for his energy to become the norm. Rookies, for example, are typically terrified to make a mistake. The sudden hike in talent waters down their game. Davis will eliminate this anxiety and make it A-OK for everyone to talk smack. There’s a beauty to the cornerback position. The ball travels 30, 40, 50 yards in the air with all eyes on you to deliver. You make the play. You let Mike Evans know you made the play. Everyone else becomes obsessed with doing the same thing. Further, Tampa Bay identified the secondary as the strength of the roster. Davis inked a three-year, $44M deal; Jamel Dean re-signed this year at four years, $52M. Before practices, Davis repeats to all in his room that nobody’s allowed to catch a pass. Be it 1-on-1’s, 7-on-7’s or full 11 on 11.
The player punching receivers play-in and play-out knows the entire team must think this way. For the Buccaneers to win, they can’t dance around the ring.
So, they won’t. Davis’ energy is already catching on.
“The disrespect is unbelievable,” McCollum says. “We love it. We’re like silent assassins.”
Unsolicited, McCollum also takes it step-by-step: Win the NFC South, win a playoff game, win the NFC, win a Super Bowl. That’s the plan. That’s how Bowles’ team is seriously approaching 2023.
“We come from behind like assassins,” McCollum adds, “and take people by the throat.”
Believe it or not, there’s a softer side to the head hitman. When he’s not trying to snatch the souls of wide receivers, Davis plays with his 3-year-old daughter as much as he can. He recently took his girl to Disney World this offseason. Miles of walking that killed his feet. Dad tried wearing Red Jordan 11s, which was a grave mistake while carrying his daughter everywhere. Still, seeing the joy in her eyes was priceless. The movies she loved were all brought to real life. Now, he’ll try to make his own fantasy a reality. Most probably assume these Bucs need a healthy dose of encanto to have any shot.
Laugh if you must. To Davis, this isn’t any different than the Golden State Warriors losing Kevin Durant and then winning another championship. He views this season as an amazing opportunity. A chance for the entire team to step out of Tom Brady’s shadow.
“A lot of times, we would do stuff,” Davis says, “and because Tom is the greatest player to ever play the game, a lot of credit would go toward him being here. Now, it gives us a chance to be independently great. People can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s Covid.’ Or, ‘Oh, it’s because Tom was there.’ They’ve got to give us the credit. That’s something we’re fighting for.”
Obviously, the offense will undergo a complete transformation. Nobody knows if it’s for better or worse yet. Davis loves Mayfield’s equally surly persona — they’ve already been yapping at each other. When Davis jumped a short route and Mayfield refused to take the bait, McCollum heard the veteran corner scream “Throw iiiiiit!” New offensive coordinator Dave Canales has been implementing an entirely new scheme. If he worked his magic with Geno Smith in Seattle, why not a former first overall pick? Davis sees an offense operating with much more rhythm and efficiency. The quarterback won’t be a sitting duck. He expects more boots, more easy yards. The NFL’s 32nd-ranked running game can only improve.
The math is simple. Davis expects this to be the best defense in the NFL so — once the offense finds its identity? — the state of the Buccaneers is clear: “We have another Super Bowl-contending team.” A take that’ll echo as delusion to most beyond this corner of the state. Another Florida Man who needs help. But before any team can do anything, attitude comes first. To win, every player must report to the office with a defined purpose that transcends any gameplan on a whiteboard.
In that respect, the Buccaneers are ready for war.
Davis draws the line in concrete. His defense will aim to, indeed, “wreck shit.”
Passion is no problem here.
That’s how Miami Gardens molded him. Gunfire, $8K bets ‘n all. Every single WR1 can go ahead and pin his quotes up in their locker. He won’t feel any pressure.
Also, hear more from Bucs corner Zyon McCollum with our Q&A.
Go Long’s series of 2023 season preview features — exclusive to subscribers — will begin soon. The aim, always, is to bring you as close as possible to real pro football:
Miss a Bucs piece in the past? A few below…