There are a lot of expectations and growing anticipation for this upcoming season. It’s not often a team gets to the SEC Championship and getting back is going to take a lot of hard work and another group of powerful leaders.
After practice today, Coach Jim McElwain said “Jake was such a great leader. He went about his craft the right way. He really had an affect on those guys. It’ll be interesting to see who kind of picks that up.”
I can tell you the core of the upcoming leaders will be linebacker Jarrad Davis. This time last year, Davis was watching the practices from afar and trying to get back from an injury.
“That’s something I’m still getting adjusted to. I’m thinking winter workouts are going to keep going because last year that’s pretty much what I was doing, still working out. But being out there and just being able to communicate with the defense, run around, I feel right at home,” says Davis.
In 2015, Davis racked up 98 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 7 quarterback hurries, 4 pass breakups, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble.
Knowing what’s on the line, Davis has put on 7-10 lbs during this short off-season. With the option to enter the NFL draft, Davis turned it down after the loss to Alabama left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I can’t walk away from that. It’s something that I know I have another opportunity and I’m going to come at it full go. I’m going to make sure I take advantage of it.”
Davis says it was odd stepping on the field for the first practice without guys like Bullard, Morrison, Neal and Hargreaves. “The first play was weird, I’m not going to lie. It was kind of weird not seeing those guys around me,” said Davis. But it’s important to get into the groove with this new group of linebackers.
This upcoming group is one that is expected to put in loads of work starting right now. There is a lot of potential for the younger linebackers to get a fair share of playing time; ones who will rely on the experience and leadership of Davis.
“It’s something I know that I have to take on. It’s something I’m trying to do and take very seriously because it’s a big role. A lot of things that I do or I say is really going to affect the team. So I have to do what’s right at all time.”
Davis has all the desirable qualities of a true leader. He’s been named to the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll, he’s never had a disciplinary issue on the team, he’s popular in the locker room, he’s overcome a huge battle against injury and he shows out on the field.
Davis’ charisma is needed among this upcoming squad. The headlines beginning this Spring surrounding Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris haven’t been appealing. If Davis can have a positive impact on the younger guys, he’ll be able to set an example for players who can later set examples for others.
“David Reese, very powerful guy. Very smooth, I really like what he’s doing and what he can do. Me and him meet almost every week and we make sure that we sit down and go over the plays, go over the scheme because I want him to be comfortable. I know what I wanted as a freshman and I got it. I’m going to do the same, return the favor, make sure that he steps up because he could be something very special.”
While putting the pieces together, the challenge facing this team is to prolong their energy and success.
McElwain says “One of the things that hit us last year is we didn’t finish and we didn’t sustain. So to me these practices have to be one of those deals where we get a little bit better and we never take a step back and that’s going to be our challenge.”
Jarrad Davis wants to set the bar high.
“I just want to show the guys on my team- offense and defense- I’m someone they can lean on, who’s not going to break, who’s not going to fold.”