Vontae Davis and Sean Smith obviously had high hopes and expectations for themselves in 2011. Yes, both had yet to make marks as excellent cornerbacks but both were hovering around good in 2010 after being very good by rookie standards in 2009.
Both going into their third seasons with the Dolphins knew that 2011 should be their unveiling as premier players if they were going to get to that height because they're both in their primes, they're both familiar with the system they're playing, and they're both familiar with the opposition.
So I understand why Vontae Davis thought he and Smith together would be "the NFL's best cornerback tandem," as he said prior to the season. It wasn't necessarily true what he said, but it was good he was thinking in that direction and working toward that.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins and the duo, 2011 has been unfulfilling so far. Both suffered cramps and were beaten for plays as a result of that in the season-opener against New England. Davis, who was also beaten on passes before the cramps, wasn't even able to finish the game because of the cramps.
The next week against Houston Davis sustained a hamstring injury and, again, could not finish a game he started, breaking up "the best tanden." And while Smith rebounded against Houston in that he got through the game without injuries, he did yield a couple of plays that cost his team. It was nothing that an average cornerback wouldn't give up, but the point is Smith is supposed to be part of "the best tandem" in the league so it was viewed as a bit of a disappointment.
The hamstring injury Davis had in that Houston game kept him out against Cleveland and then San Diego. Smith played against both teams. He played well against the Browns. He didn't play well against the Chargers.
In the Chargers game, the Dolphins asked Smith to cover outstanding WR Vincent Jackson throughout the game. Smith wasn't up to the task. Jackson had three catches for 108 yards in the first half. Judging from that one half of damage, it was fortunate for Smith that Jackson didn't play in the second half because he re-aggravated a leg injury.
Neither Smith nor Smith have an interception this season.
"Well, I’d like to see him get his hands on more footballs, yeah," Sparano said when asked about Smith. "Sometimes the balls got to come your way to have those opportunities and really prior to last game, I think the San Diego game, is when the most balls went Sean’s way. I think overall right now he’s played three really good games. I think the San Diego game Sean would tell you there is a play or two there he wishes he had back. I don’t think he played a bad game in that game I just think there was a couple plays there he wishes he had back."
I'm thinking coach needs to redefine "really good games" and "bad game."
Smith might be fundamentally sound and be beaten only once or twice, which practically every cornerback does, but that is not a "really good game." That's what the guy is supposed to do. A "really good game" for a cornerback includes an interception. Or it includes erasing an outstanding wide receiver from the other team's arsenal. Or it includes stripping the ball on a corner blitz, picking it up and scoring.
Neither Smith nor Davis have done any of that. Indeed, in the two games both Smith and Davis started, the Dolphins gave up six pass plays of 25 yards or more.
The Dolphins have given up 10 pass plays of 25 yards or more this season -- way, way, waaaay too many for four games. It is partially the reason Miami is 31st in the NFL -- next to last -- in pass defense this season.
Monday night will be a chance for Davis and Smith to put all that behind them. The Dolphins are coming off a bye. Davis, close to 100 percent, will start for the first time in two games, barring a last minute setback to his hamstring.
The night game will offer a new day for Miami's two young corners.
And they should be very well motivated. You'll recall that on Thursday, Rex Ryan took a little jab at the two. He was talking about Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, his two corners, when he mentioned that while they were not the best tandem, he thought them to be pretty good.
Well, going up against an offense that struggles to pass the ball -- the Jets are 21st in the NFL -- and a quarterback that is completing only 56 percent of his passes, Davis and Smith should be able to have a good game if indeed they're going to turn this season around for themselves.
Oh, and, I'm using my definition of good game. I recognize the need to have good technique and them being able to sink their hips and all that. But I more recognize big plays like interceptions and forced fumbles and passes defensed that end drives.
That's what I mean by the Dolphins needing a "really good game" from their cornerback tandem.