John Denton's Knights Insider: Jonathan Davis Comfortable at Linebacker

March 24, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF's coaches called for the running backs to head to a drill and halfway en route Jonathan Davis caught himself and headed back to his new home with the Knights' linebackers.

The mini-mistake was natural considering that Davis had spent the past two seasons playing running back for the Knights. But now that he's playing linebacker again - the position he's loved the most since he was five years old and the one where he had the most success in high school - he couldn't be happier. And considering his fiery demeanor and aggressive personality, Davis is a much better fit on the defensive side of the ball.

``I love it. I feel more comfortable at linebacker than running back. The coaches have put me in a position where I can make plays on the defensive side of the ball,'' Davis said. ``I think I'm better on defense because I'm looking to hurt somebody every play. I'm looking to put the pain on them instead of them putting it on me.''

With Conference USA Championship Game and Liberty Bowl MVP Latavius Murray, 2009 all-conference pick Brynn Harvey and senior Ronnie Weaver back at tailback, moving Davis to the defensive side of the ball made particular sense this season. Especially when considering that he was a three-time all-state linebacker and the 4A Defensive Player of the Year in Georgia in 2008.

With only Josh Linam back as a starter at linebacker following the departures of Derrick Hallman, Lawrence Young and Chance Henderson, opportunities for prominent playing time abound at linebacker. The Knights are giving good looks this spring to newcomers Ray Shipman, Ray Cottman and Davis. Davis has already caught the eye of head coach George O'Leary and defensive coordinator John Skladany and has been promoted to a starting spot at weak-side linebacker.

``I tell you what, he's showing up fast and that's why I elevated him to the first group because he was showing up read-wise and exits were good on coverage,'' O'Leary said. ``There's a lot to be done before anything is determined, but each day we'll get a little scrimmaging done so we can make a decision on what guys can handle and what they need to work on.''

UCF, 11-3 a year ago and champions of C-USA and the Liberty Bowl, is four practices into its allotted 15 sessions for the spring. The Knights will have individual drills again Saturday at 1 p.m. at the practice fields and then will move into Bright House Networks Stadium for some scrimmaging.

Saturday's scrimmage session will give the likes of Davis a chance to prove that he has what it takes to cut it as a starting linebacker. Just 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, there are some questions about how Davis will hold up against some 300-pound guards and tackles, but so far he's more than held his own because he is one of the team's strongest players pound-for-pound.

``I think some of our offensive linemen have thought that I couldn't hit,'' Davis said with a chuckle. ``I know they think that I'm small and just 205 (pounds) and that I probably can't hit, so they try to run the ball right at me. But I love when they do that because it gives me a chance to make a play.''

Davis opened last season as the starter at tailback and ran for 107 yards and a touchdown in the win against South Dakota. Injuries eventually slowed him and he fell behind Weaver and Murray on the depth chart. But the move to linebacker has given him new life and he said there really hasn't been that great of a transition because that's the position where he's always been best-suited to play.

``It's more natural for me there. I had to get my head down, but it was all natural coming back to me,'' said Davis, who has had to get used to playing outside linebacker instead of middle linebacker. ``I played linebacker my whole life and the only reason I played running back was because I was good at it and my (high school) coach wanted me to play there.''

Davis said he fully expects teams and opposing linemen to challenge him because of his relatively small 5-foot-9 frame. But he said his size is an advantage in that he's able to get lower on blockers and he has the agility to tackle backs in the open field.

``I always looked up to (former Florida State standout linebacker) Buster Davis because we're the same (height). He's 5-9 and I'm 5-9,'' Davis said. ``Our whole lives we've been told that we weren't tall enough. So like him, I've had a play with a chip on my shoulder.''


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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.