Marcus Davenport downplays thumb injury, has 'improved a lot'

The Saints' Marcus Davenport will have minor thumb surgery on Friday that is expected to fully heal in time for training camp in late July. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

METAIRIE, La. -- Marcus Davenport ended his first spring session in the NFL with a "walk-off sack" of quarterback Drew Brees.

There's no live tackling in practice -- and players aren't even wearing pads yet at this time of year -- so it wasn't an actual sack. But the New Orleans Saints' first-round draft pick still made his way into the backfield during a simulated two-minute drill Tuesday for perhaps his most impressive highlight to date through four weeks of organized team activities and minicamp.

"I think I've improved a lot," said the rookie defensive end, who has gotten the chance to work almost exclusively with the first-string defense over the past month because of injuries to veterans Cameron Jordan, Alex Okafor and Trey Hendrickson. "But it's still a process. … I've still got a lot to learn, especially with such great vets teaching me, taking me under their wing."

As it turned out, Davenport was ending the spring on a high note before he has a minor thumb surgery on Friday. He is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp in late July.

Davenport left practice early on Tuesday, then he didn't practice Wednesday and isn't expected to participate in Thursday's minicamp finale. It's unclear if Davenport suffered a new injury on Tuesday. But he suggested the team just decided to shut him down and keep him healthy with the surgery coming up.

And he made it clear he's not concerned about his health.

"Real minor," Davenport said of the thumb surgery. "I guess a lot of people made it bigger than it is. … I had people texting me, 'Get well soon,' hoping for a speedy recovery. And I'm like, 'Nothing happened. But OK.'"

Davenport didn't specify whether he suffered a specific thumb injury during practice or whether he had a nagging issue the team decided to look at. But he continued to practice even after the injury was discovered last week and said they just decided to be "proactive" by having the surgery.

So it shouldn't stunt his development, which has gone well so far by all accounts.

"He's doing good," defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen said. "Big improvement -- in everything. Just mentally, just picking up stuff. He's a good learner. And then athletically, he can do it all now -- I mean, he's special.

"He's gained some size since he's been here, really picked up fundamentals and technique and is playing hard. So it's good to see, but you know, we've still got a long way to go."

Davenport (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) is facing an even steeper learning curve than most rookies, coming from the small-school level at Texas-San Antonio. He is also transitioning from the two-point stance he used in college to a three-point stance.

But he has continued to display the remarkable athletic traits that inspired the Saints to make a huge trade for him in April. They traded away next year's first-round draft pick to move up from No. 27 to No. 14.

"He's explosive, he can run, quick-twitch. I mean all the stuff you saw on his college tape and at the combine, he's every bit as explosive and plays like it, too. So it's fun," Nielsen said of Davenport, who had 15 sacks over his final two college seasons and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

Davenport said the biggest adjustment for him so far has been getting used to playing without pads in practice -- so he has to rely on "finesse" instead of strength.

"It's all a mental game -- more mental than physical. There's so many little things that you do that really make a big difference," said Davenport, who said he has gotten better over the past four weeks at playing faster and "going in with a plan and being able to execute it."

"And even when it doesn't necessarily work, being able to have counters in mind and being more fluid," said Davenport, who added he has benefited greatly from being able to go up against one of the NFL's premier left tackles -- Terron Armstead -- every day.

Armstead said he has been impressed by Davenport's relentless attitude and desire (even when the veteran is getting the best of him).

"It's great, it's great," Davenport said. "I feel like if I lose -- I still get mad; I can't say I don't get mad -- but at least I'm still learning, especially from the best."