Adversity bonds Florida linebacker duo into ‘heartbeat’ of defense
Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison have something in common.
“They are wired up a little differently,” center Cam Dillard said.
Davis can be seen walking around the Student Union mumbling to himself.
“He’s always in his own world,” safety Marcus Maye said. “The group will be walking this way and you can see Jarrad, you know, separate to the left, by himself.”
Morrison speaks his mind and doesn’t care about the consequences.
“Antonio is an honest person,” Gators linebackers coach Randy Shannon said. “You may not like what he says, but he’s upfront and honest. A lot of people don’t want to hear the truth. Antonio is that type of guy.”
But it was another commonality that brought them together. Davis and Morrison had football taken away from them for a period of time recently.
“We both were injured so we couldn’t participate in spring,” Morrison said. “During that time, me and him really bonded.”
Davis suffered a torn meniscus in Florida’s game against South Carolina on Nov. 15, 2014. Morrison suffered a serious knee injury during the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3.
Now, they are the “heartbeat” of a unit that’s ranked fifth nationally in total defense.
Morrison leads the Gators with 74 tackles and Davis is right behind him with 67 tackles this season. The duo has combined for 18 tackles for loss.
“Those guys are the heartbeat of the defense,” Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. “You see Antonio out there and you see a guy who’s coming off the type of injury he’s had. … JD is just running right there with him. When our guys see those guys out there doing it, what’s our excuse? They have no excuse but to pick it up and go along with those guys.”
But the most important number Davis and Morrison have produced this season is 10. They have each remained healthy enough to play in all 10 of the Gators’ games this season with Davis making eight starts and Morrison making 10 starts.
Their health has been especially important, as linebacker Alex Anzalone has not played since suffering a shoulder injury against East Carolina on Sept. 12. Anzalone started the first two games of the season, but Davis has started in his place ever since.
“It’s kind of crazy,” defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said of Davis and Morrison carrying such a heavy load. “It really is. But they’ve been really, really good. They’ve put out some really good film.”
While they are wired differently off the field, they are the perfect fit on the field.
“They just run around like I’ve never seen before,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “They really just have bad intentions when they get to the ball.”
In fact, Davis and Morrison’s eccentric personalities make them a perfect fit for each other.
“Those guys are really like 1 and 2, doing a great job,” Shannon said. “One week you may see Antonio get a lot of tackles, the next week it may be JD. It just depends on the course of the game, but those guys complement each other, and also complement this defense. We’re playing those two a lot.”