John Denton's Knights Insider: Troy Davis Powers the Defensive Line

Aug. 12, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Bruce Miller was most likely a once in a generation type of player at UCF, one who got the most out of his physical abilities and relentlessly willed himself to becoming the greatest sack specialist in school history.

Understandably, there are concerns over the Knights' ability to replace the two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. But the most likely candidate to fill the massive void left by Miller - junior defensive end Troy Davis - put on a heck of an audition last spring with Miller himself there to see it.

With Miller looking on from the sidelines and encouraging him every step of the way, Davis went out and registered 5.5 sacks in UCF's Black and Gold game back in the spring. Some of the sacks were mere tagoffs because of the rules of not punishing the quarterbacks, but the point was that Davis was in the backfield almost as much as UCF's tailbacks.

Davis used a solid sophomore season and a sizzling spring to boomerang himself into this fall camp where he hopes to do the unthinkable and capably replace Miller. No player has been more dominant during camp than the 6-foot-2, 256-pound Davis, leading some to think that the loss of Miller won't be as damaging as some feared.

``There are expectations out there of what Bruce did that I want to live up to this season,'' Davis said of his close friend and former teammate. ``Bruce was such a great player and I want to do some of the same things that he did, and maybe even surpass some of them.''

Lofty aspirations, indeed, but Davis has been at times unblockable because of his rare combination of speed, power and relentless motor. He has beaten tackles off the edge with his speed and also drilled them on the inside with his powerful bull rush. He's been, in a word, Miller-like, so far.

``He's one of those guys who really plays with some juice out there,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said.

With sack specialists Darius Nall and Davis returning, the addition of promising JUCO transfers Toby Jackson and Cam Henderson and the blossoming of LeBranden Richardson, the Knights are deeper and more talented at defensive end than any spot on the roster. And considering the frequency with which several teams in Conference USA throw the ball, O'Leary said that it's a must to have plenty of players that can put pressure on the quarterback.

New defensive coordinator John Skladany said the aggressiveness of his defensive ends have set the tone so far in training camp. And despite major losses at the position, he feels the Knights are confident they will be able to keep the heat on opposing quarterbacks.

``I've been very impressed with them so far. Losing Bruce Miller and David Williams from last year was a concern, but we knew Troy Davis had played a lot of football and with Darius Nall, they're as good a pass rushers as there are in the league,'' Skladany said. ``And the two junior college kids, Toby Jackson and Cam Henderson, and LeBranden Richardson have come on and have given us five guys who can rush the passer and be physical enough against the run. So that's a position we feel really good about.''

Despite playing just part-time last season, Davis impressed those around him by registering 5.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss and six more quarterback pressures. One of his biggest sacks of the season, one that he coincidentally shared with Miller, came on the final Georgia possession of the Liberty Bowl when he dropped quarterback Aaron Murray.

Knowing that it was his time to evolve into an every-down end, Davis went to work on bettering himself after last season. He made huge strides in the spring, and showed off his progress in the intrasquad scrimmage with the 5.5 sacks.

And Davis spent most of his offseason in Orlando, trying to become even more imposing physically. The results of his quick-twitch work and plyometric drills toned his body and made him both stronger and faster.

``I worked on my speed and the weight coaches helped me out a lot. I lost a little weight, but then I put it back on healthier and I'm a lot stronger than last year,'' Davis said. ``My power clean and squat went up a lot in the weight room. I feel good, I feel fitter, I'm leaner and I'm running a lot better. I think it's really going to help me this year.''

Davis also thinks the competition at defensive end will keep the group hungry and working hard. Jackson and Henderson were Georgia and Auburn commits out of high school, giving a glimpse at their talent. Both were stars at Navarro (Texas) College where Jackson was the MVP of the JUCO National Championship Game with two sacks and two other tackles for loss.

``All the guys at defensive end are pushing each other. We have Cam Henderson, LeBranden Richardson and Toby Jackson with Darius and me and we're all working hard,'' Davis said. ``Watching them on film, they all look really good and anyone of them could be thrown in with the first team.''

Davis said despite UCF losing Miller and two of its starting linebackers off a team that led C-USA in several major categories last season, the belief is that the Knights could be even better defensively this season. That certainly could be the case if Davis can sufficiently replace Miller and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

``A lot of people are saying we lost our defense, but we have a lot of people back and we have some freshmen and JUCO kids filling the void,'' Davis said. ``Everybody here on the defense is hungry and I think it will show this season. I think we have a chance to be a really good defense.''

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