INDIANAPOLIS — There was an extra bounce in Vontae Davis’ step this week at the Indianapolis Colts’ practice facility.
The fifth-year cornerback was injured the week before the Miami game last year and missed the opportunity to play against his former team. On Sunday, he figures to be front and center for the rematch against the Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I think he has a lot to prove and to show critics that doubted him,” teammate Greg Toler said. “He’s happy to be here. He’s going to take it one play at a time, just play our style of football.”
Davis was dealt to Indianapolis for a second-round draft pick just before the final week of the preseason last summer. After three years in Miami, his farewell meeting with Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was captured by HBO’s “Hard Knocks” cameras for posterity.
Ireland told the then 24-year-old he needed to iron out the inconsistencies in his game. The potential to be a great cornerback was there, but there were too many valleys being mixed in with the peaks.
Davis appeared shell-shocked as Ireland wished him well and told him he might need to rush to beat an approaching storm system and schedule a flight to his new home.
He arrived in Indianapolis with questions about his work ethic and maturity. But just one year later, he’s emerged as a leader in the Colts’ rebuilt secondary.
Davis is the team’s top on-the-ball defender, starting opposite Toler and playing in front of safeties Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry. He made just two tackles in the season opener against Oakland last week, but the Raiders showed respect by rarely throwing his way.
“He’s getting better and better every week,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “Throwing to him and not throwing to him — I think (the Dolphins are) going to — it depends on what plays they want to see and go against him. He’s having a good camp and a good first game. We’re looking for good things for him in the future. He’s playing well.”
After battling through injuries early, Davis really started to come on at the end of last season.
Despite playing in just 10 games, he finished second on the team with three interceptions and added eight pass deflections. Davis also proved to be a well-rounded defender, recording 51 tackles and his second career sack.
Indianapolis believes it can have one of the best defensive secondaries in the NFL this season. That notion is likely to be tested today by a talented Dolphins offense.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill got his second season off to a solid start by completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 272 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 23-10 win at Cleveland. He has a new big-play target in former Pittsburgh Steeler speedster Mike Wallace and a dependable security blanket in possession receiver Brian Hartline.
Davis likely will spend much of the day matched up against Wallace, but Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said he won’t have the cornerback shadow Miami’s star. Instead, Indianapolis likely will roll a safety over the top to Wallace’s side on each possession.
No matter how the defense ultimately lines up, Davis acknowledged the difficulty of Indianapolis’ task.
“Everybody knows Mike can run,” he said. “He’s a fast guy, got a lot of ability, and I’m pretty sure they’re looking forward to using Mike to make different mismatches. We got a challenge ahead of us with Mike Wallace and also Brian Hartline. They got real good receivers.”
If Davis is better equipped for that challenge than he has been in the past, he said the credit should go to Pagano and his staff.
“Being that Coach Pagano is a (former) defensive backs coach, he can relate to the defensive backs a little bit more,” Davis said. “I got very good coaches, well-rounded coaches here in Indy.”
Miami head coach Joe Philbin would agree.
The second-year NFL leader didn’t have much time to work with Davis last season before the trade. But he recognized the young man’s potential. And he’s seen growth since Davis arrived in Indianapolis.
“He’s playing well,” Philbin said. “He’s a very skilled athlete, and he’s got good physical toughness, good instincts. He can play a variety of coverages. He’s not a guy that has to play just one thing. He can press. He can play off. He plays the ball well. I think the Colts have obviously done a nice job with him. He’s playing well.”
For his part, Davis claims there are no hard feelings over the split. He still has friends in the Dolphins’ locker room, and he’s looking forward to seeing them today.
“It’s fun because I actually was in the locker room with some of those guys,” Davis said. “So I know a couple of guys there. But, still, it’s still NFL Sunday. We have to go out there and compete like any other Sunday.”