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March 26, 2012Solid team chemistry can sometimes make all the difference.
Unsatisifed with their performance from a year ago, senior Troy Davis believes forming a tight-knit group among his defensive line teammates is the first step to becoming a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
"Our nickname for the defensive line this year is 'Def Row,'" Davis said. "We came up with that together. We have some creeds and we're coming together uniting as one. We weren't as close and tight as we should have been last year because we had a lot of new guys. This year we want to be closer. We're really stressing brotherhood and that's a good thing."
Overseeing it all is first-year defensive line coach Blaise Winter, who has been a motivational speaker after his nine-year NFL career ended in the mid-1990s.
"He really stresses brotherhood and just staying together," Davis said. "That's his philosophy and I love it."
Winter, who played for George O'Leary at both Syracuse and with the NFL's San Diego Chargers, often traveled down to Orlando to speak with the team and tutor the defensive line.
"It's pretty cool to have him as our coach because in the past we would only get him for like a couple days," Davis said. "Now we have him all the time. He's an expert on using your hands and has us working on that. We're learning all the stuff he knows. He has some great tools he's teaching us along with all the knowledge he has from having played in the NFL."
Winter is actually one of four new coaches on the defensive side joining defensive coordinator Jim Fleming, linebackers coach Tyson Summers and secondary coach Kirk Callahan.
"I like the changes," Davis said. "Sometimes people think it's hard when you get new coaches, but I think as a defensive unit the transition has been easy. It's like we were made to mesh together. I like their philosophy of being tough and going hard all the time. Everyone loves to do that. We just blend in together. Coach Fleming is big on stressing the little things to become great."
Davis' breakout season came in 2010 during UCF's Conference USA Championship run. As a sophomore, the Peach State native recorded 5.5 sacks, including a big one late in the Liberty Bowl which enabled the Knights to hold on to beat Georgia.
Like the rest of his teammates, Davis wasn't happy with the way things turned out in 2011. He still had a solid year at defensive end, but four of his five sacks didn't come until the last three games of the season.
Now the experienced veteran, Davis wants the line to have the impact they did in 2010.
"My big thing this year is I'm trying to be a leader," Davis said. "I want to fill that role. I know a lot of these young guys look up to me. I want to always be positive and bring people up. I haven't always been that way in the past, but that's what I'm really trying to accomplish this year. We need a lot of these young guys to step up and play to become a complete d-line like we've had in the past."
When Davis first arrived at UCF in 2009, the player everyone on defense looked up to was Bruce Miller, who went on to become the Knights' all-time sack leader and a back-to-back C-USA Defensive Player of the Year. Miller just finished up his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.
"I still look up to Bruce," Davis said. "I still talk to him. (Recently graduated defensive end) Darius Nall went out to San Francisco to go see him. I love all those guys. I still watch Bruce's film. I'm trying to do the things Bruce did because he helped me when I was younger to help me get to where I'm at. I want to be the same leader to the younger guys on this year's team."
Davis won't be the only senior playing defensive end. He'll be joined by Toby Jackson and Cameron Henderson, a pair of junior college players who were still learning their way a year ago. For now, Jackson is on the first team opposite of Davis and Henderson is a backup.
"Those guys have come a long way," Davis said. "They've gotten a lot stronger in the weight room and they're transferring it to the field. They've been in the program a year now so they know what's expected of them. They're doing a great job. They know the defense now."
Like Davis on the outside, defensive tackle Victor Gray is established as a leader in UCF's interior.
"As always, Victor is doing a great job," Davis said.
There are a few up-and-comers who have caught Davis' eye, namely defensive tackle Andrew Rice and defensive end Thomas Niles.
"Andrew Rice, we're really going to need him along with all those guys," Davis said. "Thomas Niles has some unique abilities like Bruce in being able to go outside with his speed or go inside to the three (technique) which can help us on third down. He has a wonderful strike and I think he's going to help us out to give us more depth."
Davis and his teammates are focused on spring practice, but they know the season will be here before they know it. He's eager to return to their winning ways of 2010.
"This is our last year in C-USA and obviously I want to go out with winning a championship," Davis said. "We want to lead these younger guys into the BIG EAST and go out with a bang. We have a lot of goals, but our No. 1 goal is to win a championship. But we're taking it one game at a time, one practice at a time, one play at a time and one meeting at a time.
"That's really the motto: Take it one at a time."