Head coach Matt Rhule has praised Davis as being a starting-caliber running back. But if you go back a couple of years, there's a chance Davis would never have made it this far.
Davis had entered the league as a 49ers' fourth-round pick in 2015 but was released just after totaling just 171 all-purpose yards in two seasons. The Seahawks claimed him off waivers in the summer of 2017 before eventually relegating him to the practice squad.
"It was real depressing," Davis recalled Wednesday. "It was times where I was just like, I don't want to do this anymore. But I never quit."
That's when he stumbled upon motivational speaker Eric Thomas's viral YouTube video titled, "You owe you." In seven minutes and 40 seconds, Thomas passionately described why everyone owes themselves an explanation as to why they're not achieving their goals and aspirations.
"You need to stop pointing fingers at people," Thomas says at the end of the video. "You need to start pointing fingers at yourself. What did you not do?"
"I used to watch it every single day at six in the morning," Davis said of the video that's racked up more than 8.6 million views. "Me watching that video inspired me (to) control what you can control, basically.
"I was thinking to myself, 'You love this game. This is what you want to do for a long time. Don't just let it slip out of your hands.'"
Davis would get an opportunity to play late that season, as the Seahawks dealt with multiple running back injuries. He started six games, picking up 240 yards rushing and 15 receptions for 131 yards.
In 2018, Davis was a more significant factor in the Seattle's rotation, playing 15 games. He had 514 yards rushing with four rushing touchdowns, plus 34 receptions for 214 yards.
That earned Davis a two-year deal free-agent deal with the Bears, but he totaled only 11 carries for 25 yards before Chicago cut him last November. The Panthers swooped in, but Davis got to the club so late he didn't receive much playing time on offense.
But during early evaluations this offseason, new senior offensive assistant/running backs coach Jeff Nixon felt Davis would be a strong complement to McCaffrey.
"Nixon stood on the table for him," Rhule said. "He recognized his skill set really early. He said he's a powerful back. He's big. He can run with speed and power. He's got great rush skills. He catches the ball out of the backfield. So all the things that we ask a back to do, he can do all of them."
But replacing McCaffrey is a huge challenge. Given his history, Davis understands what it means to come in as an injury replacement, even if the Seahawks' 2017 situation was vastly different.
"Just be me, don't try to be someone else," Davis said. "Play how I've been playing, prepare how I've been preparing, and just play angry."
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater shared a similar sentiment when asked how much the offense would change with Davis as the starter for the next few games.
"We expect Mike to just come in and be Mike," Bridgewater said. "Just want to try to put ourselves and our guys in the best position to be the best version of themselves that they can be, whether it's in the run game or the pass game."
The Chargers' formidable defensive front will also pose a challenge for Davis, both as a runner and in pass protection. Los Angeles has recorded seven tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, and four sacks. Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa has 2.0 of those sacks, five quarterback hits, and three tackles for loss.
"They've got a lot of guys that can go out there and play," Davis said. "They've got a lot of guys that can rush the passer. We've got to make sure we keep Teddy clean."
The Panthers have other options at running back, with Trenton Cannon on the active roster and Reggie Bonnafon on the practice squad. But Davis is the lead dog for now, and he believes he's prepared for it.
Thomas's message in "You owe you" helped Davis focus on the things he could control. On Sunday, he'll cash in on that investment by once again being an NFL starter.
NEWS AND NOTES
— Kawann Short continues to be sidelined by his foot injury. However, Rhule said he's hopeful the defensive tackle can return this week.
— Left guard Dennis Daley's high ankle sprain is progressing well. Still, he's on the third week of what was initially diagnosed as a four-to-six week recovery time.
— Rhule liked what he saw from defensive end Brian Burns in the second half of the Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay. With the Panthers employing three down linemen through much of the third and fourth quarters, Burns was used as both an edge rusher and a cover linebacker. He was not credited for a quarterback hit but did move quarterback Tom Brady off his spot a few times.
"I think he's a really versatile player," Rhule said of Burns.
— Defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who committed two consequential penalties against the Buccaneers, said he's working on technique to eliminate unnecessary fouls.
"In college, it's about brute strength and who can get there first. But as I'm finding out week by week, (the NFL is) about technique and being able to slow the game down and speed your pace up but slow the game down," Brown said. "I know it sounds crazy, but that's exactly how this game is."
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers begin preparations for the Los Angeles Chargers.