Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Maybe it’s because Rashied Davis came to the NFL from the Arena League. Or because he’s 5-9. Or because he plays special teams. Or because he didn’t play organized football until after high school. But whenever Davis makes a play, it always seems like he came out of nowhere.
Davis’ career with the Bears has been marked by unflattering labels. He’s the ‘‘forgotten’’ man. He’s on the ‘‘roster bubble.’’ When minicamps opened the Mike Martz era last spring, one respected scribe handicapped each Bears receiver’s chance to be among the top three this season, and Davis was last at 40-1. Even the complimentary ‘‘overachiever’’ tag borders on faint praise.
It always seems like he’s on the fringe.
‘‘That’s because you guys put me on the fringe. Nobody else does,’’ Davis said. ‘‘I’ve never seen myself as a roster-bubble guy. Maybe a little bit last year. But no — you guys see that. In the locker room, they don’t think I am. My coaches don’t think I am. They haven’t told me that.’’
That attitude probably has as much to do with Davis completing his sixth NFL season than anything. Not only does he play bigger than his size, but he thinks bigger, too.
Whether it’s closer to perception than reality, Davis is a much bigger — and more dependable — factor this season than he was last year, when he had just five receptions for 35 yards and his most noteworthy special-teams play was a penalty that nullified Devin Hester’s 12th kick return touchdown in a rout of the Cleveland Browns.
Not only is he having his best season on special teams — he’s fourth on the team with 16 special-teams tackles — but he’s contributing on offense, too. Playing in place of injured starter Earl Bennett against the Green Bay Packers last week, Davis led Bears wide receivers with seven receptions for 63 yards. Hester, who had one reception for 16 yards, was the only other wide receiver to catch a pass.
‘‘It’s very important for me to contribute to the team, no matter what it is,’’ Davis said. ‘‘For me to do it on offense, it’s great, to show that the old man can play a little bit, still.’’
As much as any of the Bears’ supporting players, Davis has a knack for making key plays that often are overshadowed:
† After the Minnesota Vikings took a 10-7 lead at Soldier Field on Nov. 14, Davis returned a short kickoff 32 yards to the Vikings’ 49 with 3:09 left in the first half. That set up a touchdown that gave the Bears a 14-10 halftime lead en route to a 27-13 victory.
† In the fourth quarter of that game, he caught a 12-yard pass on third-and-six that led to a touchdown that gave the Bears a 27-13 lead with 8:37 to play. It was his first reception of the season and his longest since 2008.
† After Bennett suffered an injury against the Vikings in Minneapolis on Dec. 20, Davis caught a nine-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter that countered a Vikings touchdown for a 34-14 lead. The Bears won 40-14 to clinch the NFC North title. It was his first touchdown catch in 38 games.
† Against the New York Jets the next week, Davis alertly defended Brad Smith on a fake punt and helped force an incompletion that sparked the Bears to a 38-34 victory.
It sure seems like a rejuvenation.
‘‘I guess,’’ Davis said. ‘‘I’m doing the same things this year I’ve always done. I’m a lot better on special teams. But I’ve always been a pretty good special-teams player.’’
Davis acknowledged a couple of minor changes — one mental, one physical — that seem to have made a difference from the start. Though he was considered expendable heading into training camp, Davis made an immediate impact that erased virtually all the doubt.
‘‘I trained in the offseason at the University of Arizona,’’ he said. ‘‘I decided I was going to lose six pounds and I lost eight, so I feel I’m a little quicker, a little faster this year.’’
Davis also became a father when his wife, Dianna, gave birth to a son, Eli Rashied Davis, on Oct. 29.
‘‘I’m a lot happier this year,’’ he said. ‘‘I just am. I just decided that I was going to be happy this year and not be upset by anything.’’
If anything, players like Davis are a byproduct of the Bears’ exceptional special teams, which motivates great athletes to go all-out for a largely thankless job.
‘‘I’m a pretty good offensive player. I just don’t play that much,’’ Davis said. ‘‘I excel on special teams. I love who I play for. I love who I play with. And I love coach [Dave] Toub. I guess you could call it a saving grace. I do my job and I do it as well as anybody in the league.’’