Alex Smith

Singletary knows he needs Nate Davis

Like all politicians (except perhaps Joe Biden), NFL coaches are extremely calculating when it comes to speaking publicly about anything. Whether it’s about strategy, injuries or the work ethic of individual players, coaches always have an agenda when they throw something out into the media vortex, where a man’s words can be chopped up and twisted by the masses within seconds.

So when Mike Singletary put the alert out that Nate Davis would play earlier than he ever had in a preseason game against the Vikings, and then criticized Davis’ off-season work ethic after he played an uneven second half on Sunday night, the message was clear: Singletary may be frustrated with Davis, but he can’t give up on him yet.

It’s tough to dispute Singletary’s claims about Davis’ commitment to football, even though until this week all we had to go on in regards to “The Nate Show” were brief glimpses of brilliance during the fourth quarters of preseason games and the oft-mentioned learning disability. Jason Whitlock, a Ball State alum and one of Davis’ biggest supporters recently and over the years, surprised many when he bashed Davis today in his column, which included this passage:

You know what Nate wants most of the time? He wants to tell people he’s in the NFL. He wants to go back to his hometown of Bellaire, Ohio, and be treated like a star. He wants to hang in Indianapolis and pop bottles like he has Peyton Manning’s contract.

He’s young. He’s … hood rich. He doesn’t grasp the big picture. He has no idea that he won’t be the first or last quarterback with big-time talent to flame out because $500,000 felt like lifetime financial security.

Don’t be mistaken. I love the kid. He has a warm, friendly spirit. He’s a good person. But success in high school and college came too easy. And, like a lot of black quarterbacks, Nate is trapped between “keeping it real” with his leeching homies and accepting the fact that the quarterback position in the NFL is a buttoned-up management job.

What makes two high-profile media figures spend so much energy questioning the motives of a backup who was drafted in the fifth round? It’s because both men see what Davis could become — if he’s saved in time. Davis’ maturity issues are hardly unique among athletes (or people in general). But players with marginal talent who can’t get their stuff together don’t find coaches trying to creatively motivate them like Singletary has with Nate Davis after doing the same thing two years ago with another Davis … Vernon. (And possibly Anthony Davis as well, if the rumors about his disregard for conditioning coming out of college turn out to be true.)

As much as people have made about Singletary’s ability and/or desire to rehabilitate those who’ve supposedly lost their way, he’s an opportunist like any other coach who’s gotten this far. And Singletary knows that with Alex Smith currently trying to make good on his final last chance with the 49ers — along with David Carr’s sack-heavy resume and funky throwing motion — he’s running out of time to find the quarterback that will help lengthen his tenure as head coach.

That’s where Nate Davis comes in, and why Singletary is going deep into his media playbook to make sure he gets all he can out of a guy who, as Whitlock wrote today, “has an uncanny feel for the game. It’s like watching Larry Bird play basketball. Bird could see things others couldn’t.”

As fans who’ve watched all his preseason games, it’s hard to disagree with Whitlock’s assessment. Davis creates the feeling of awe in football observers in his 3rd-string cameos that Smith never has, and Singletary knows that having Davis as a backup plan makes more sense than hoping for a 1st-round QB in next year’s draft to come in and dominate from the start. Singletary has nowhere near the time to find another would-be savior, not with this once-elite franchise seven years removed from their last winning season.

Everything rests on Smith this season, because Singletary has no choice. Smith has the best combination of experience with Jimmy Raye’s offensive scheme and physical tools. Carr has experience, but track record and athleticism are substandard. Davis, with all the physical tools a quarterback could ask for, doesn’t know what it takes to be a professional.

The fact that Singletary cares enough about Davis to shame him publicly for his bad habits shows how important he is to Singletary’s future. Like a politician who’s at the mercy of his voters, an NFL coach is at the mercy of his QB1. Singletary can’t give up on Davis now, because unless Smith  his career probably depends on him.

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