- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Sometime between the end of the regular season and the start of spring practice, Mike Davis had an idea: His middle name is Magic. But right now the back of his jersey reads "Davis." Maybe he could put the two together and the back of his Texas jersey could read "Magic Davis."
Umm, no, was the response of the coaching staff.
Magic? Just Magic? Then it would read Magic 1. Get it?
Yeah, not happening.
So instead of sticking the magic on the back of the jersey, Davis has inserted a little into his game. The junior, who has become quite accomplished at pulling disappearing acts, suddenly has shown a little David Blaine sizzle. OK, he hasn't levitated yet. That's just ridiculous.
But, the wide receiver's play has a few, himself included, close to walking on air this spring.
"He's well on his way back to what we saw when he first got here, and even better," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
"Mike has had an incredible spring so far,'' added wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. "He has really come out there and been a leader for us. He has been giving it all he's got every practice and has been making big plays."
Big plays are what Davis was signed to produce. At 6-foot-2, he can fly down the field and has the height and athleticism to go over most cornerbacks. After a freshman record 47 catches in 2010, expectations were for him to exceed that mark in 2011.
Davis didn't miss by much. He led the team with 45 catches. But there was only one touchdown -- against Iowa State. He had only one 100-yard receiving game -- against BYU in the opener. And after the 25 catches for 464 yards in the first six games of the season, Davis had only 20 catches for 145 yards in the final seven games.
"For whatever reason I felt like he had lost a lot of confidence," Brown said. "And I don't know why. You never know."
Davis had to deal with some family issues during the 2011 season. That distraction is what could have derailed his progress, Brown said.
The problems bled onto the field and pooled once there.
"When he wasn't playing as well, or dropped some balls, it bothered him," Brown said. "Lost some confidence. And then sometimes he had a pulled groin, or a hip flexor that hurt him some. And when things aren't going well, those things hurt you a lot more then when you're playing great. I felt like he probably just got overloaded."
Now Davis has learned to shoulder that load and a lot more. As a junior, he is the player from whom the rest of the wide receivers take their cue. That's a role he now understands and has started to embrace.
And it hasn't gone unnoticed.
"I have really been impressed with his work ethic, not only in practice, but in our individual periods and with the extra drills we have been doing on some route stuff and things like that," co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. "He has a great focus and a great energy out there. It helps everyone in those drills."
That extra work, crisper routes and more dedicated nature also has helped build Davis' own confidence. So has completely understanding the offense and what is expected of him within that offense.
"Now knowing what you are doing, knowing where you are playing, knowing what the expectations are and knowing what the offense is doing, takes the anxiety out of there," Harsin said. "It is now just concentrating on the details and getting better."
With only two other proven returning receivers -- Shipley and Marquise Goodwin -- Davis has to get better for the passing game to get better. Even though Goodwin has blazing speed, because of his size, Davis remains the most viable deep threat in an offense that is predicated on the play-action pass.
That means Texas has to have him remain a threat in order to pull the safety out of the middle of the field to soften the defense up for the run or passes over the middle to Shipley or Goodwin.
Do that a few times and this offense could work like magic.
1mEthan Sherwood Strauss