Here's what you probably know about Rulon Davis. If you've been reading at all about him, you probably know that he was a Marine in the Iraqi conflict. He was in a fire zone, fought for his country, and came home.
He went to Cal (University of California) and is a defensive lineman. He survived a near-fatal motorcycle accident when his bike was struck from behind by a car and Rulon slid under a truck, which ran over his legs. And, famously, he was named after legendary Denver Broncos football player Rulon Jones, he of the 129 games with 52.5 official sacks. It's a lot of live up to.
Here's what you might not know about him; Davis always wanted to be a Marine. At 13 years old, he chose to attend a prep military academy. Davis went to the Marine Military Academy in Texas, before continuing on to Charter Oak High School, where he became a star football player. After leaving high school, Rulon immediately joined the Marine Corps, where he stayed for three years, (the Denver Post says four years) including that 6-month tour of duty in Iraq. He's Semper Fi all the way. One thing that his teammates at Cal talked about, in addition to his courage and fierce style of play, is that he's famous for his vocalizations, giving voice to massive grunts of exertion and loud battle cries when on the playing field. Rulon brings his all to his country, to his sport and to his life. He describes his own style of play as 'aggressive, tenacious and smart’.
Rulon is unusually intelligent. He went to the University of California on a double major - sociology and African-American studies and concluded both successfully before the end of his football career. He brings that intellect to bear on his study of football as well - coaches and teammates alike have commented on his football smarts.
Rulon is, to put it mildly, a character. He also has character, in stellar quantities, but this is another side of the man. He often speaks in what he calls ‘Rulonisms'. One of his favorites is ‘as I should'. As in, "I'm going to sack this guy so hard that he'll think that he's studying geology - as I should". He likes to say things like that a lot.
Davis came back to the USA from the war, enrolled in and played for Mt. San Antonio College, where he helped them to a No. 11 defense ranking in California. He had 32 tackles and 16.5 sacks as a ‘freshman’ in only 12 games. It was like watching a group of brown belts fight against a master shihan (Master Teacher - Professor). Already a grown man, Davis stayed at Mt. San Antonio for a second year, and had the first of a long string of football injuries, causing him to miss half of the season. He was still a highly-ranked player, and began to look for the right University to finish his education. He chose the University of California. One student player later would blog his memory of the early practices with Davis:
Veterans were getting beat and overpowered. They were left shaking their heads in disbelief and muttering small excuses like "he's just too strong." On one hilarious occasion, Rulon beat one backup offensive lineman with a quick sideways shove after the snap. That player returned to his fellow offensive linemen stunned and in disbelief. "Did you just see what happened?" He asked in amazement. "He literally just picked me up with one hand and threw me aside!" And yes, it did pretty much just happen like that. Rulon moved a 300 pound man with pretty much one arm. It was insane. It was amazing. It was funny. It was scary.
One day early on in the season, Rulon lined up against left tackle Andrew Cameron. The entire team took notice - especially the OL. If anyone could stand up to Rulon's sheer size and strength it was the starting left tackle, team leader, and veteran senior. Cameron showed no fear, only concentration. This was the battle of the day. It was as if the two best players were about to face off and everyone wanted to know who would prevail. Could Cameron be the one to stop the massive new defensive beast?
The quarterback snapped the ball. Rulon burst out of his stance letting out his usual attention-getting grunt/battle-cry. And in what seemed to be a slow yet fast second, Rulon had powered his way inside and through of Cameron to get early pressure on the QB.
In the resulting few seconds, what just happened settled into the minds of the players.I'm sure it was something along the lines of "wow," or perhaps "oh sh**."
...When it become apparent that even the seniors, veterans, and starters couldn't always stop Rulon, it made watching Rulon face off against the freshman hilarious. If you could ever cut fear with a knife, it was when Rulon faced off against the freshmen in 1 on 1s.
In a predraft interview with Gregory Cox, for thefootballexpert.com, Rulon talks a little about his game:
Cox: Your vertical leap was 34.5. At the 2008 NFL combine eventual #6 overall pick Vernon Gholston was the only defensive lineman to top that (by one inch) and only two linebackers were over that mark. Can you beat that number?
RD: Yeah, I definitely can beat that.
Rulon Davis will never lack for confidence. He's also powerful, dedicated, enthusiastic and a good leader with far-above-average maturity. At Cal, Rulon's maturity made a big impression on his team during the first 6 games of the season. He missed the rest, though, due to illness and injury. During the following year he was the starter at DE and contributed hugely on defense with 16 tackles, three for a loss and 1.5 sacks. But once again, he missed 7 games that season with a foot injury.
Despite the amount of time missed, Davis was a leader on the defense. His team gave him the nickname, ‘The Beast’, and Davis will have to talk to Brandon Marshall about whether they will share the moniker. Davis also owns the highest recorded vertical leap, at 34.5 inches, of any defensive lineman in the history of Cal. He also, as he says, thinks that he can beat that mark. Don't bet against him.
He loved Cal, he had a great time there and right now he plans to go back when his NFL career is over. His interest is in all three phases of commercial real estate - land development, buying and selling, and finance. In the military he was an avionics technician. He has also studied philosophy and mass communications. As I said - Rulon Davis is very intelligent, and it shows in all phases of his life.
Referring back to that interview -
Cox: Positions change from college to the NFL. Some guys at defensive end move inside to tackle and others slide back to outside linebacker. You have played in the 4-3 and this past season in the 3-4. You have the frame at 6-5 to play tackle. Which scheme fits you the best and which position?
RD: I can fit both the 3-4 and the 4-3. This past year I felt really comfortable in the 3-4 because in a 3-4 the defensive end has to play the tackle position as well as the rushing end position. I like being able to play more than one position - inside in the three and then going out there and playing the "five" technique. I like the versatility. I love that.
Versatility is the buzzword of this year's Broncos, and the two 3-4 DEs are up for grabs. It's a slot the Broncos could use help on. Rulon models his game after Luis Castillo, feeling that they have the same build. Wayne Nunnely will let him know how that's going, having coached both. Davis is said to love the weight room and the film room. He's a constant student of the game and an unusual athlete. That's huge - the three things that rookies in the NFL need to work on are the speed of the game, the skill of the competition and the onslaught of new learning, constant barrage of information. If you like that experience, you're half way there.
The knock on Davis is simple - injuries. The Broncos just want to see that he can stay healthy for most of a season. That's the reason that he dropped from the draft boards. If his injury history was better, they could overlook other issues. Seeing just how he got there, perhaps they could even like his age.
Like Spencer Larsen last draft, this is a person with strong beliefs, one who put the course of his life straight and then applied discipline and maturity to his football career. That makes them a little older. There's a lot to be said for that. Maturity, intelligence and fierce devotion to life, family, teammates and job makes for a better locker room, a better player and can offset the other issues - in degree.
At 6'5" and 290 lbs, Rulon Davis looks and moves like a man born to play the 3-4 defensive end. Now he'll have to prove that he can both play that position and stay healthy while doing so. If he can, it's likely that the Broncos will have a big part of their new 3-4 defense anchored on the line. It's going to be a great training camp - bring it on!