Don’t let the easy-going grin fool you.
Carl Davis is the face of Iowa’s defense and he takes his new-found prominence seriously.
“I’m just trying to play my role,” said Davis, a defensive tackle. “I want to be a clutch player. When we’re on those third-and-2s, be able to make those stops.
“Help my team get off the field.”
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior ranks among the most imposing and outspoken members of Iowa’s football roster – and I would argue Davis is the most indispensable.
When considering everything from talent to intangibles, he is the one Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz can least afford to lose in 2014.
“I think he’s confident,” Ferentz said of Davis. “He realizes he can play pretty well out there, if he does things right.”
“He’s looking beyond himself, too, trying to pull people in together.”
Of course, this is bound to kick off a debate.
When I sent out a tweet last week asking Iowa fans for their thoughts, Brandon Scherff was a popular nominee.
The senior offensive lineman also stands 6-5, 315, and could have skipped his senior year to enter the NFL draft.
His return brings back memories of Robert Gallery, another left tackle who put his professional career on hold in 2003 and helped the Hawkeyes finish 10-3.
Bryan Bulaga did leave early, but not before anchoring Iowa’s 2009 run to the Orange Bowl.
The problem with linemen is, they’re dependent on the guys blocking beside them.
If the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing — or if skill position players under perform — an offensive coordinator is left twiddling his thumbs.
Riley Reiff earned all-America honors in 2011 and was a first-round draft pick the following spring by the Detroit Lions, but Reiff was on a 7-6 Hawkeyes team.
Some folks figure the quarterback is indispensable. Jack Rudock, however, is more savvy than flashy. And the first time he misfires, you’ll hear a clamoring for backup C.J. Beathard.
Iowa boasts plenty of depth at running back and receiver, with no clear favorites.
When it comes to the defense, the Hawkeyes’ back seven is a bit of a mystery.
All three starting linebackers from last fall are gone, which makes Davis’ performance even more significant.
“We’re going to be inexperienced as well as younger,” Ferentz said. “So the guys up front are going to have to help compensate for that.”
Davis spent three years working his way into the lineup. He became a starter in 2013, finishing with 42 tackles while Iowa held opponents to a total of eight rushing touchdowns in 13 games.
“It’s basically doing the same things I did last year, but a little bit better,” Davis said. “I want to be able to make big plays, just like our linebackers did last year.
“I feel like it’s our turn.”
Davis is also capable of providing an attitude adjustment.
“I just try to come out to practice and have fun,” he said. “I don’t like for guys to be like, ‘Aw, we’ve got practice today.’ That’s the way I like being a leader, showing guys we came to get better (and) let’s have some fun out here today.”
If there is a teammate who might challenge Davis’ title of Mr. Indispensable, it’s fellow defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat.
Trinca-Pasat stands 6-3, 290 pounds and tends to be more subdued off the field.
“We’ve got different personalities, but we’re the same in some sense,” Davis said. “You learn to respect each other and you learn to love each other. I basically look at him like my brother.
“Louis is more of a quiet, reserved guy. I’m more of an amped-up guy. I like to jump around and stuff like that. Louis is more focused. We respect each other’s styles.”
Andrew Logue has been with the Register for two decades and covers Hawkeye football and sports media. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.