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Carlos and Khalil Davis explain how their twin rivalry pushed them to the Bucs and Steelers

The Davises grew up with a built-in rival — and a way to sharpen their game off the gridiron.

Rutgers v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Buccaneers selected Khalil Davis with the 194th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. His brother, Carlos, was drafted by the Steelers at No. 232. Here’s what Christian D’Andrea had to say about the twins ahead of the draft.

It’s difficult to separate Carlos and Khalil Davis as NFL Draft prospects. The two defensive linemen are identical twins. They went to the same school. They play the same position. They both showed out with strong workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine.

But the two brothers who dropped anchor on either end of Nebraska’s defensive line are much more than a shared bloodline and all the quirks that come with it. The experience of spending 22 years alongside another elite athlete helped breed the sense of competition that’s made each twin a possible draft pick.

The moments they haven’t been together may define who they become at the next level, though. Each Davis brother steeled himself in the discus circle as a member of the Cornhuskers’ track and field teams en route to All-American honors. That determination and ability to execute under a spotlight may be the fuel that pushes them from potential Day 3 picks to NFL starters.

Growing up with another NFL prospect helped mold the Davis brothers

The Davises were typical twins in many regards. They forged their own unspoken language in which they could tell what the other was thinking. They pretended to be each other in class and, occasionally, in practice. They competed in just about everything.

But most twins don’t tip the scale at more than 600 pounds between them while maintaining the quickness to bust out a sub-4.9-second 40-yard dash time. The brothers were athletes from a young age, and having a perfectly matched equal to face off against built them into NFL prospects.

“It was so competitive,” Khalil told me at this year’s combine. “It took over a lot of things. It’s not often you get someone who’s just as good as you in practice and then at home too ... I’m a little more serious than him. But I love getting under his skin, getting him more competitive.”

“He looks quiet, but he’s not,” Carlos added in a separate interview in Indianapolis. “He’ll let something slide, but if it gets on his nerves, he’ll say something to you. You take it past that point, we’ll use it on the field.

“[Sometimes we] just took it too far, but it helped us become the people we are today.”

The people they are today are two All-Big Ten honorees on the field. Khalil became as one of the FBS’ top lane-cloggers in 2019, posting career highs of 11 tackles for loss (in 11 games) and eight sacks. While he’s the shorter of the two brothers, measuring in at 6’1 to Carlos’ 6’2, he sees that as a feature and not a bug.

“Staying low is easy for me,” said Davis. “I’m a short D-lineman. That’s my advantage. I can play lower than everybody, especially when most tackles are 6’4, 6’5.”

Figuring out how to turn a perceived weakness into a strength helped Khalil emerge as the more productive player, but Carlos was still a formidable presence handling end duties in the Huskers’ 3-4 defense. His four sacks in 2019 were second-most on the roster, behind only his brother.

Those are solid numbers, but not necessarily ones that suggest stardom or even everyday roles at the next level. Fortunately for the Davises, they’ve got an extra gear they can drop into when it comes to making an NFL impact.

Track and field primed the Davises as athletes — and taught them to excel on their own

This year will likely mark the first time Khalil and Carlos have played organized sports on different teams. Fortunately, they’ve been preparing for their breakout for more than a decade.

Being big and athletic translated into weight-throwing careers for the brothers. Both turned successful track and field experiences into significant collegiate accolades at Nebraska. Carlos finished third in the Big Ten in the discus as a senior, and each twin qualified for the NCAA finals in 2019’s Division I Championships in the same event. Per Nebraska’s official website, each has earned All-American honors over impressive Cornhusker track careers.

A lifetime of stepping into the ring to launch discuses and shot put honed their explosiveness. Each brother shoots out of his stance with a fast-twitch blast like they’re the world’s heaviest sprinters.

Just like uncorking a shot put at a 45-degree angle, both brothers use a low center of gravity to blast upward. That creates the leverage and separation that turns running lanes into traffic jams and third-and-short into punting situations.

“Being able to move at 300 pounds through a ring, in a forward line, it helps us a lot,” Carlos clarified about using his shot put technique to blast through offensive lines. “It just helps you be nimble. It’s huge.”

That’s not the only trait the Davises have been able to translate from the field to the gridiron.

“The mental side. That’s been big,” Khalil explained. “In football, you’ve got 10 guys helping you out. In track, once you step in the ring you’ve got 30 seconds to put it all together. You’ve got to be perfect with your footwork, technique, hips. Being able to execute in that short amount of time and then translate it to football is huge. It’s a lot of pressure, but it kind of decreases when you’ve got 10 guys helping you out on the field.

“That gives us an advantage.”

That ability to showcase strength and athleticism under a solo spotlight shined in Indianapolis. After shooting for a time in the 4.8- or 4.9-second range, Khalil’s 4.75 40-yard run — a full half-second faster than Tom Brady’s time 20 years ago — was the fastest among all defensive tackles at the combine. Carlos’ 4.82 ranked third. The pair had top performances when it came to the bench press, which was the only other drill in which they participated.

Now they have to hope those numbers and some well-curated game tape will help mitigate relatively tame stats from their time at Nebraska, especially since a global pandemic has kept them from impressing NFL executives in pre-draft workouts.

While they’re ready to be split apart — “we’ve got our own things happening,” Khalil said in Indianapolis — the true key to combining their size and athleticism into a Pro Bowl tackle may just be consistency. Leadership changes defined the past five seasons of Nebraska football, and it took a toll.

“I had five D-line coaches,” Carlos opined. “Three head coaches. Three defensive coordinators. It was kind of a roller coaster; I’d get really good, and then they’d leave.”

The Davis brothers may not top-tier prospects in 2020, but they’ve got a unique background that will ease their transition from the Big Ten to the NFL. Their dynamic athleticism — the combination of centrifugal force, timing, and explosion that launches a discus or shot put — seeps into their football play like an overfilled ice tray.

There’s still plenty left for them to prove. As former redshirt seniors, they’re also older than many fellow prospects in 2020. They’re widely considered to be late-round picks. But operating under a microscope is just something else their second sport prepared them to do. With workouts in their rear view and pro careers ahead, the only thing left to see is which brother will hear his name called first.

“If he’s drafted before me, I’m gonna be on his butt until we’re done playing football,” Khalil confided. “It’s going to fuel me.

“But I’ll be happy for him, and he’ll be happy for me.”