"Each spring has probably been a little better from the standpoint that our players have a greater understanding of what we're asking them to do," Davis said. "We also understand our players better, and things that they need to improve on and areas that we can get better in as a team."
The 57-year-old head coach indicated that his squad made it through their NCAA-allowed 15 practice opportunities "with no major significant injuries," while also praising the new additions to his staff in Allen Mogridge (tight ends), Art Kaufman (linebackers) and Troy Douglas (defensive backs).
"I think all three of them are great fits," Davis said. "The players have really adapted to them, and from that standpoint, I think we've made some progress."
One thing that has changed since Davis' tenure at Miami ('95-'00) is the incorporation of spread and single-wing concepts in offenses across the country. Florida – boasting two national championships in the past three seasons – is the poster child for the spread offense.
"It really puts a premium on having a fast, athletic defensive team," Davis said. "I think that we're moving in that direction. I think we've certainly got some guys that can run, and with each recruiting class, we hope to continue to add to that. And I think Jeff Connors has done a good job with our strength and conditioning program in helping our kids' mechanics and helping them run better, so we're making some strides there."
"That was the byproduct of 8-10-12-14 years of a program growing and building and adding players to the program every single year," Davis said. "The concepts and the philosophies obviously are the same – we want to build a very, very fast athletic defensive team that can run. A lot of depth in the defensive line, and we would love playmakers at all five of the skill positions on offense."
A significant portion of the building process is adding depth – not just bodies, but talented individuals who can step in and assure that there will be no drop off in execution or speed. Filling the cupboard has been a three-year task, and it's not quite full yet.
"In 2007, we were paper thin," Davis said. "We were one injury away at almost every single position from playing somebody that either wasn't ready to play or didn't have the ability to play. Last year, we had some depth at some positions, but certainly not enough at all of them. And we faced some adversity last year, losing the quarterback for six or seven games and we lost some other guys that were pretty significant contributors throughout the course of the season…
"As a program, we're still not to the point that we've got the depth where the second- and third-team guys are every bit as talented as the starters. Hopefully, we'll continue to recruit good kids and we'll get there someday."
That 2000 Miami squad also included future first-round draft choices OT Bryant McKinnie, TE Jeremy Shockey, CB Phillip Buchanon, SS Ed Reed, CB Mike Rumph, WR Andre Johnson, DE Jerome McDougle, DT William Joseph, RB Willis McGahee and second-round pick RB Clinton Portis. That ensemble of talent finished the 2000 season ranked second in the nation in scoring, fifth in total offense, fifth in scoring defense and eighth in pass defense.
Davis credits part of his success in talent evaluation to his days in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys ('89-‘94).
"[It] really opened my eyes an awful lot to the position-specific requirements that it takes for kids to excel at certain positions," Davis said. "We kind of used that philosophy at Miami and used a critical eye in evaluating players – ‘What was going to be deceiving? What was going to be the upside of this player to recruit him and bring him into your program?' And we did have some success. Certainly not every kid that we brought in was a first-rounder, but a lot of them were really good college football players."
But Davis is not about to take full credit for the eventual star-studded resumes of his former standouts.
"God blessed them with great athletic ability, but they also had a tremendous amount of competitiveness and work ethic to push themselves to become great players," Davis said.
"The schemes that you run certainly have a lot to do with helping those players make the transition from college football to the NFL," Davis said. "… When a pro scout comes in and watches [a player], they value what he's learned in college maybe a little bit more and it gives him a better chance to go in the first round."