When the Washington Redskins released Montae Nicholson on March 23, they were parting ways with last year's starting free safety. But hours earlier, they announced the signing of his potential replacement.
Meet Sean Davis, the 26-year-old Washington D.C. native who has spent nearly his entire life in the area. The only time he left was during a four-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and even then he'd keep up with his hometown team. Since high school, he has worn No. 21 in honor of former Redskin Sean Taylor.
Now Davis is back in Washington, where he'll suit up for the franchise he grew up rooting for and likely play the same position Taylor thrived at more than a decade earlier.
"I'm just looking forward to being the deep guy, being the one that everyone has to depend on, being the last line of defense," Davis told the local media via a conference call last week. "Open field tackling -- it's one of the hardest things in football, and it's one thing that I pride myself on. Each year, I've missed less tackles. I'm just looking forward to improving my game each and every year, and the best is yet to come."
At the time of his interview with reporters, Davis had not talked to starting strong safety and three-time Pro Bowler Landon Collins. But in speaking with new defensive backs coach Chris Harris, Davis received insight on his defensive role. As many anticipated, Davis will mostly be the deep safety while Collins will play closer to the line of scrimmage.
That's where Davis played in 2018, when he started 15 games for the Steelers and led the unit with 79 total tackles. He also broke up seven passes, third-most on the team, and made an interception.
"Sean Davis is a guy that we liked at free safety," head coach Ron Rivera said in a video call with the local media Tuesday. "We think he's a guy that's going to come in and compete to be the starter. He's a guy that we think can match very well with the guys that we have in the secondary already, so we feel very strongly about him."
Davis also understands that defenses are evolving and that defensive backs must be able to play multiple positions depending on the alignment. As a rookie, he played nickelback and strong safety in 16 appearances (nine starts). He then started every game at strong safety in 2017, recording a team-high 90 tackles and three interceptions.
Davis only played one game last season because of a shoulder injury, but he's fully healthy now and eager to get back onto the field.
"As long as I'm on the field, I feel like I'm going to make an impact on defense," Davis said. "But just bouncing around, I feel like it's just evolved my game. It let me have a better understanding of the defense and how all the positions work together and how we feed off of each other."
When Davis takes the field, he'll aim to emulate Taylor's playing style -- how he owned the middle of the field, attacked the ball and instilled fear into opposing pass-catchers.
Davis loved everything about Taylor and referred to him as a "beast," a "freak athlete" and a "huge role model." His game film, Davis said, displays exactly how the free safety position should be played.
Davis knows he cannot continue Taylor's legacy, but he'll attempt to honor him in any way possible. What better place to do so than in his own backyard?
"I just try to do what I'm supposed to do, but also unleash the inner beast in me and play like Sean Taylor," Davis said. "That's my goal every week I'm out there: play like Sean."