Jarrad Davis turning into a star for the Florida Gators

Jarrad Davis was always going to be an important member of the Florida defense this fall, but when Alex Anzalone got hurt against East Carolina, it pushed Davis into one of the team’s most important players.

The Florida linebackers have played well this season, but they’ll always be at a disadvantage. There aren’t enough of them. That forces senior Antonio Morrison and Davis to play as many snaps as possible since Florida has mostly operated out of the nickel this season.

Through the first six games, Davis has shown no signs of slowing down. The junior has 41 tackles, including being tied for second on the team with 6.5 tackles for a loss, with one sack, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry to make things. Davis is always around the ball.

Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon remembers the spring when the Gators were struggling to find enough bodies at linebacker. Morrison continued to rehab his serious knee injury and Davis was still out with a knee injury suffered against South Carolina in 2014. Shannon learned then that they would have to coach up the players they could use on the field and not worry about anything else.

Now with Davis and Morrison back on the field without much help behind them, the same rule still applies.

“The one thing that we do as a staff -- it doesn’t make any difference whether they’re first, second or third team -- we try to treat them like they’re first-round picks because we coach them like they’re first-round picks so when the opportunity comes it won’t be a letdown,” Shannon said. “When the opportunity comes, you won’t miss a beat. I think that’s what happened with Jarrad. We’ve been coaching him. He’s been running the defense. He’s making all the checks, all the calls, and he’s executing what we have in the plan.”

Now finally healthy, it has been about learning the game and studying it the right way for Davis. He trusted his athletic ability too much during his first two seasons and didn’t put the film work in to have a complete performance. Davis learned his lesson and is now second on the team in tackles because he’s in the right spot after working hard in preparation this week.

This game, a lot of people think it's a physical game but you have to be mentally ready to go on the field every day, get better and become the best you that you can possibly be,” Davis said earlier this season. “I make myself push through hard situations to help my team. It's watching film throughout the week, making sure I'm up on my keys. Anyone can play fast if they know what they're looking at. It's like a car can't go without the key in the ignition. Watching film all week helps me make those plays.”

It’s not a surprise to Shannon that Davis is having a breakout season. Shannon actually compared Davis to three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who Shannon coached at Miami. The former first-round pick by the New York Jets had a nine-year NFL career, who a Super Bowl and led the NFL in combined tackles in 2005.

It’s a lofty comparison, but that’s how much Shannon likes Davis.

“Large build, same body frame,” Shannon said of the two linebackers. “He’s a little bit taller than Vilma, but same mind set, smart. Very aggressive. Very powerful when he hits. Very powerful young man. He’s very smart. Vilma was a guy who likes to challenge and that’s the same with Jarrad. He’s a challenging guy and he thinks that he can beat anybody at anything at any time, which is good. You need that as a linebacker.

“They have some characteristics about it and Jarrad’s done a great job for us and is continuing to grow. He’s done a great job on the team, also. Think that I see him talking to the other guys offensively, defensively, helping them understand what we’re trying to get done as a team. That shows you he’s part of being a leader. He’s not a vocal guy. He’s a behind-the-scenes leader, which is really good for our team.”

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