Davis Wavering on NFL?

CLEMSON – Just a couple of weeks ago, James Davis was leading the parade in trying to get all the juniors to forgo the NFL Draft and return to Clemson for their senior year for what looks to be a special season. That's not the case for the stud running back anymore.

His tune has changed rather quickly.

"(If the NFL says I'm not a first-rounder) then there's a possibility that I'll probably come back," Davis said Saturday afternoon following the first bowl practice. "I can't make any promises. I'm not going to lie to the people of Clemson. Right now, I really don't know.

"I like Clemson and I'd love to come back and break the rushing record, but those are just some goals that I've got in mind if I was to come back. But it's something that I probably want to do."

Over the course of the last month, Davis has grown increasingly frustrated. In Clemson's last three games, he's averaging 3.4 yards per carry and just 63 yards rushing per game, and that's with 122-yard effort against South Carolina thrown in there.

But his biggest complaint publicly has been him not getting the ball in goal line or short yardage situations.

Against Boston College, the Tigers had the ball first-and-goal from the 2 and Davis touched it just once being sent to the sideline and watching an incomplete pass and a fumbled snap and having to settle for a field goal.

Davis told reporters after the game against the Eagles that he thought the best player was supposed to get the ball in scoring situations and that he guessed that the coaches figured he wasn't the best player.

One week later against South Carolina, he watched quarterback Cullen Harper throw an interception from inside the 5-yard line.

Moments after beating the Gamecocks, Davis said it's a good thing Clemson won or that he'd really be upset with the way he was being used.

This could be the root of Davis' thoughts toward turning pro.

In the last two games, the Tigers have had 26 plays on second or third down where they needed to gain just three yards to get a first down, or goal-to-go from inside the 5 and Davis, the team's best short-yardage runner, touched it just seven times.

"I want to be back as much as everybody wants me to come back," he said. "I want to come back and play. I just want to see my future and what Coach (Tommy Bowden) has planned for me next season. I had a little talk with Coach (Rob) Spence, and obviously he wants me to come back, but everybody's got a family and they've got to feed their family some type of way. You've got to narrow down your options and the things that possibly could happen."

He has seen his touchdown numbers drop from 17 in 2006 to just nine this season.

"If (the draft prediction) says second round, I'm probably going to be thinking about (leaving)," Davis said. "If I get first I'll probably leave, but the second round, I'd probably think about it. I'd definitely come back if it's the third round. … I'm definitely going to make a final decision after the bowl game."

The other aspect Davis said that will be instrumental in his decision is what happens and what was said by the coaches to the incoming freshmen for next season.

"With all those guys coming back, it'd probably give me a higher draft grade with coming back for next year," he said. "But you've still got to look at in terms of how many carries you think you're going to get next year.

"You've got top recruits coming in and coaches make promises to some of those recruits, so you've got to look into that, too. What did you promise this guy? Is he going to play right away? There's a lot of stuff you've got to look in to. … I was promised I was probably going to probably run the ball, so you've got to look into that."

MERLING, HAMLIN AND THE NFL: Defensive end Phillip Merling said he hasn't really thought much about the NFL and that he doesn't have the slightest clue where he's being projected to be drafted.

"I'm just waiting on the grade (from the NFL) to come back," he said. "I'm just focusing in on this bowl game, but whenever the grade comes back, I'll make a decision. It has to be first round for me to even consider leaving. … After the bowl game, I'll talk with my family and deal with that issue."

For his part, Hamlin said he'd only leave if he was projected to go in the first round. However, less than a month ago, the safety said anything in the top three rounds would make him think long and hard about jumping to the pros.

WATKINS AND BILLIE: Senior linebackers Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie weren't at practice Saturday and there's a good chance they won't be at Wednesday's, either.

Both are doubling up their efforts studying wise in order to remain academically eligible for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The two players have worked hard the last eight or so months to stay eligible and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning dispelled the notion they had a severe case of senioritis.

"I know for the most part during the season, they've worked harder than they've ever worked," he said. "I don't think they've got senioritis. They had senioritis as freshmen, sophomores and juniors."

PRACTICE NOTES: Bowden said he worked on conditioning with the players more than usual because of the long layoff and to get players back into shape. He also said the players seemed to be focused and keyed in on what the coaches were saying. …

Davis said he liked what he saw on the field today and that he could tell an immediate difference from last year.

"You can really tell that the guys want to go to Atlanta and play hard," he said. "Obviously if we win this game, we're going to get put in the top 10." …

Hamlin and Harper were voted by the team as permanent team captains. … Bowden said he might move some of the players on the scout team to different positions to get ready for spring practice. …

Bowden said he had two Christmas wishes: Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe leaving for Arkansas and new Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson getting away from his option-style of offense.

"It's a little bit like Wake Forest, but more unusual," Bowden said of Johnson's offense. "In fact, it'd be significantly different from Wake Forest."

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