Typically, a most improved player in spring practice is a redshirt freshman or a player who was a backup the previous year, someone with space to advance his game by a considerable margin. As such, Georgia Tech safety Demond Smith acknowledged this his selection of linebacker P.J. Davis, in his words, "may seem weird."
Davis is going into his second year as a starter and led the Yellow Jackets in tackles by a wide margin last fall, with 119 total stops, 27 more than linebacker Quayshawn Nealy’s 92. He was also second in tackles for loss with 8.5 and second in sacks with four.
He also forced three fumbles, tied for most on the team and had one interception (against Virginia Tech, returned 41 yards for a touchdown). As a freshman, he played in all 13 games and finished with 41 tackles, eighth most and first among non-starters.
“He’s just playing a lot faster,” Smith said. “He played fast last year, but now he really knows what he’s doing.”
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof wasn’t quite ready to tab Davis with “most improved” honors, but he largely agreed with Smith’s assessment. Roof said that Davis has improved and is doing a better job of playing within the framework of the defense.
Last season, “he was too much of a cowboy,” Roof said. “Played hard, physical, but too much of a cowboy. He has worked at playing within the framework.”
It obviously bodes well that one of the most productive playmakers on the defense is improving. While the defense returns eight starters, including Davis, it needs to improve considerably, given that it was close to the bottom nationally in third-down efficiency, yards per play and completion percentage.
Given Davis’ central role in the defense, the more he understands what his role is and the faster he can play it, the more effective a playmaker he’ll likely become. Nealy was a stable, consistent element of Tech’s defense, putting himself in the right spots through his knowledge of the defense, instincts and study. The Jackets can use more of that.
“He’s a very prideful guy,” Roof said. “He wants to do the right things and he’s working to it, and I’ve been pleased with his progress.”