Jazzing it up: Miles Davis, a former receiver, adds versatility to BYU’s ground game
Las Vegas product who was named after the famous jazz musician, but is not related to him, has fully recovered from a foot injury that made him miss most of the 2021 season
Miles Davis was the talk of the town in Provo last August after BYU’s first scrimmage of fall camp, and we aren’t talking about the famed jazz composer, bandleader and trumpeter.
The Cougars’ then-freshman running back from Las Vegas by way of Lubbock, Texas, who is not related to the well-known musician, was so impressive in the closed scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium that offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick promised he would push returning stars Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa for playing time and carries.
“That guy is a good player, and he is going to play for us,” Roderick said in a Zoom call on Aug. 13. “That needs to be said. That guys stands out every time he plays.”
Then Davis did very little in the 2021 season, appearing only at the end of the season in games against Idaho State and UAB as Allgeier got the bulk of the carries and became BYU’s single-season rushing yardage leader.
“The kid is a stud. The great thing with Miles is he is one of the hardest workers we have. When it comes to doing the little things, and getting the extra treatment that you need, or doing the extra workouts or exercises to get the process along, he does it all.” — BYU running backs coach Harvey Unga on RB Miles Davis
What happened to Davis?
Two days after his head-turning performance in the scrimmage, he broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot — the one that extends to his pinky toe — while returning a kickoff in practice. After surgery, it took him six weeks to walk again and almost a month after that to return to the team.
Unbelievably, Davis had broken the same bone in his left foot during spring practices a year ago while he was also preparing for the track season as a two-sport athlete for the Cougars.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I feel like I broke my right foot because I was putting too much pressure on it due to being timid about putting pressure on my left foot after I broke it first.”
Davis got one carry against UAB in the bowl game, which went for a seven-yard loss. He said after Monday’s 13th practice of spring camp that he’s feeling much better this month.
“I feel like I am 100% healthy,” he said. “I still have some work to do on my feet, just strengthening them more. But I feel like I’ve fully recovered.”
Coincidentally, one of the other RBs patiently waiting for more playing time behind presumed starters Lopini Katoa and Chris Brooks (the transfer from Cal) is also dealing with a foot issue. Jackson McChesney suffered a Lisfranc injury the first game of the 2020 season and didn’t see action again until Oct. 9, 2021, against Boise State.
Running backs coach Harvey Unga said Monday that McChesney and Davis are both having outstanding camps because both know the offense so well. He said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Davis looks like he’s been a running back for quite some time, when he has only played the position a couple years.
“The kid is a stud. The great thing with Miles is he is one of the hardest workers we have,” Unga said. “When it comes to doing the little things, and getting the extra treatment that you need, or doing the extra workouts or exercises to get the process along, he does it all.”
While acknowledging that Davis isn’t at the top of the depth chart, Roderick said the third-year player will have a role in the offense in 2022.
“He is really explosive, and so we are going to try to find ways to use him as much as we can,” Roderick said. “He is a unique player because he is a running back that can play receiver. He can do a lot of things. We are going to use him, for sure.”
Roderick said the beauty of the Cougars’ offense is the versatility it has, with players like Davis making it go.
“We can play in so many different personnel groups,” Roderick said. “This is probably the most personnel versatility I have ever had, as far as being able to show a lot of groups, a lot of formations. We are doing a lot of things this spring that I think are pretty exciting, things that we haven’t done before.”
Davis is a big part of that plan — if he can stay healthy, Unga said.
“I am very impressed with how he has handled the mental side to his injuries,” Unga said. “Some guys get in a slump or a little funk. Some guys don’t come back from injury. It has been cool to see him bounce back, his attitude and his mannerisms. He doesn’t skip a beat. He has always been positive.”
While Davis’ breakout performance was in that fall camp scrimmage, he actually had some decent moments in 2020 when the Cougars were blowing out opponents and Zach Wilson was rising up NFL draft charts. Davis caught four passes for 43 yards and rushed 15 times for 96 yards, fourth-most on the team.
He says making the transition from receiver to running back wasn’t easy, or asked for, but when coaches approached him with the idea midway through the 2020 season, he was all for it because it improved the team — which was low on quality RBs that year due to injuries and COVID-19 issues.
“I was on COVID leave, I guess you could say, and coaches ended up telling me they wanted to try me at running back, and now I love running back,” he said. “I absolutely love it.”
At Las Vegas High, Davis caught 46 passes for 1,041 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games his senior season. He was also on the varsity basketball team and ran the 200 and 400 meters in track.
“I had never played running back before, but I had decent speed, I guess,” he says. “I am not really sure why they moved me to running back. Coaches see something that I don’t see, I guess. I just know that I am here to get better and help my team out.”
Unga says that Davis was moved to running back because of how he performed in speed and space drills “where guys are trying to make tacklers miss” in a small areas.
“Every clip that we watched of Miles, he had never been tackled,” Unga said. “He can do that in a small, confined space, he has got a low center of gravity, and he can change directions well. That was a big part of it.”
Unga said the learning curve was pretty steep, but Davis is “night and day better” since he first entered the running backs room.
“Playing wideout, you don’t have to worry about pass protection stuff and even just taking handoffs,” Unga said. “So there was a lot to learn learn for him. You could tell he was raw at first, trying to figure it out. But his progress has been awesome.”
If Katoa had chosen to move on instead of returning for a sixth year, and if the Cougars hadn’t beat the likes of Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona State and Notre Dame for Brooks’ services, Miles and McChesney could very well be the top running backs in the program, along with Hinckley Ropati.
But Davis welcomes the addition of Brooks and the return of Katoa; The exercise and wellness major is almost a junior academically, but still a freshman in terms of eligibility.
We are all talented running backs who bring something different to the table,” Davis said. “It is going to be a bigger monster than what we had last year. We lost Tyler, but we have added more pieces to it, and people are more healthy. We have a lot to offer.”