Even with tempered expectations, losing a conference championship game in the manner Florida did is never an easy pill to swallow.
Adding insult to injury, one of the Gators’ star defensive players, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, has made known his intentions and desire to forgo his final year at Florida and enter the 2016 NFL Draft this spring.
But, even though Florida is losing a star player in Hargreaves, it has another in the making — if not already on campus. That player is linebacker Jarrad Davis, and after he announced he would not be joining Hargreaves in the draft pool this year, Florida head coach Jim McElwain said his team, “got the best recruit this class could ever have.”
Davis’ SEC championship performance was a roller coaster. On some plays, he looked like the best player on the field. However, he also let his emotions get the best of him a handful of times. But, even in his struggles, Davis looked like a star in the making. Let’s breakdown what that looked like:
Davis has a fearlessness about him that makes him a must-have linebacker in a 4-2-5 scheme. When a defense limits itself to just two linebackers, those linebackers must be making, or around, the tackle on every play or there simply won’t be enough help to stop the run game. It’s the job of the four defensive linemen to take up all the blocks, and it’s left to the linebackers to bring down ball carriers.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry is a player not many defenders look forward to tackling. But, all game long, Davis had no problem getting into it with the Heisman hopeful, and on one occasion it ended up forcing a turnover.
Watch the play as it unfolded. Davis was the only player around Henry as he crossed the line of scrimmage, and yet, not only did Davis stand his ground, he hit Henry square in the chest and got the ball out… no hesitation, no easy way out. Just bring the man down and make a play. Davis did.
On this play Davis showed his ability to get off blocks. Alabama likes to get its offensive linemen into the second level because generally their size can neutralize linebackers and take them out of plays. But, here we saw Davis fully engaged with the center and yet he ripped off his block and made the tackle on Henry. Pass-rushing linebackers are much better at getting off blocks because it’s what they do every play. However, when it comes to pure traditional linebackers (like Davis is), this skill is thought of as a bonus. It’s still something he needs to work on, but plays like the one above show Davis has the foundation to be a force, even when assigned a block.
Here we saw what I say is the No. 1 trait for an outside linebacker: closing speed. The time it takes for a defender to go from committing to pursuit of the ball carrier to reaching the ball is closing speed. The faster closing speed, the less time an offensive player has to react and avoid a tackle.
Davis is athletic, but that doesn’t always mean fast. He showed us here that he has both kinds of speed: explosiveness out of his first step and straight-line speed once he gets going. You’ll hear people say Davis “flies to the ball.” This is what they mean.
My final review on Davis is a play many may think was more of a negative, but you must look at the big picture. Yes, Davis did miss the tackle, and finishing plays is ultimately what has to happen. But watch Davis go through all that space within the trench with ease. This is called “shooting the gap.”
Davis reminds me a lot of Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin in that they both have the talent to see where a gap is opening and get through it, positioning themselves to make tackles for loss. Reeves-Maybin is more polished than Davis at finishing those plays at this point in time, but it’s impressive to watch Davis move with such vision through a clutter of bodies.
Florida fans should be excited for next year as Davis will take over as the player everyone else on the defense will look to for direction and production.