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Vontae Davis: Not who "they" say he is

With all of the excitement, discussion, and debate over the selection of Pat White in round two of the NFL Draft, it seems like the Dolphins' first round selection - Vontae Davis - has been overlooked.

Well that ends now - at least within our community.  Afterall, the Dolphins were able to land the draft's most physically talented cornerback with the 25th pick thanks to some "character concerns" - which we'll touch on in a moment.  But let's talk about his physical ability first.

At 5'11, 203 pounds, Davis is a beast of a corner.  He's a guy who can run with virtually any receiver (ran a 4.49 40 at the Combine and improved that to 4.40 at his pro day).  But what I like best about Davis is his physical play.  He's a solid tackler who will lay out players with a big hit when the opportunity presents itself.  But more importantly, his strength and physicality really seems to help him in coverage.  He can get a solid jam at the line of scrimmage and redirect the receiver.  And like WR Anthony Armstrong said this past weekend following minicamp, "Vontae, when he gets his hands on you, he can control you."

For more on Vontae, I turned to Joe from Hail to the Orange - SBN's Illinois blog - to share some thoughts on their former corner:

Vontae was by far the most reliable player on the defense last year. Speed, even at NFL levels, will not be a problem for Vontae; he has always been the most reliable coverage DB on the Illini - but given the rest of the secondary last year, that might not mean much.

Vontae was briefly considered for a move over to safety last year, because of the problems the team had with stopping the run. If anything, this illustrates the best facet of his game, his physicality. Even against the bigger, stronger receivers, Vontae will not be pushed off of coverage, or be very easily blocked. Also, Vontae tends to hit very hard (evidence here).

As for "character issues" - until he declared for the draft, I had never heard of anything like that. He has always gotten along with Ron Zook, and when the false reports of him testing positive for THC came out, no one went to bat for him more than Zook.

Sometimes I wonder if people just assume that because his brother Vernon has had trouble with coaches, Vontae has the same issues. Any problems you guys have with him will come as a total surprise to me.

So what is with this belief that Vontae has "character concerns"?  It's believed that this whole entire mess started when Illinois head coach Ron Zook pulled Davis off of the practice field one day because he didn't think Vontae was practicing as hard as he could be.  As a result, Davis sat out of the first few plays in that week's game against Iowa.

But that same coach who pulled Vontae from practice is the same one who has been adamantly defending Vontae and shooting down this idea that Davis is a "prima donna with an inflated ego who talks down to coaches and doesn't like to practice" - at least, according to "draft experts."  Says Zook:

''That's not anywhere close to true. I know how that stuff started. I've always coached my best players the hardest. There was one day last season he wasn't practicing as hard as he could practice and I threw him off the field...We couldn't treat him differently from other players.''

Zook adds:

''I love the kid -- he's like my son. He worked as hard as anyone I've coached. Vontae is a great person, will do whatever he's asked. He's very coachable, was well-respected here. When the rumor came out about failing a drug test, even our players said no way he would do that.''

Though Zook was trying to teach Vontae a lesson about always going all-out and never slacking - even during practice - he admits that he might not have done what he did if he knew the stir it would have created:

"If I would've known that it would've caused all this, I might not have done it. He's like my son. I would never do anything to hurt him."

So what kind of kid is Vontae Davis off of the field?  Mike Locksley, an assistant coach at Illinois, says of Davis:

''He didn't have a lot of life outside of football and study hall. If you see him, he probably has his Bible with him. He's a strong, spiritual kid.''

Indeed, religion and spirituality has been a big part of Vontae's life - thanks to his grandmother.  Adaline Davis raised Vontae, as well as his brother Vernon and five more grandchildren.  And despite her small size (5'5), Vontae says she was "a hard-nosed lady."

Perhaps Vontae would then credit her with instilling in him a sense of responsibility.  While many "draft experts" doubted Vontae's work ethic, a fellow student of Vontae's, Allyson Kloster, writes this about Davis:

Dear Vontae Davis,
You don’t know me, but we have something in common. Twice a week last semester, we sat in the same room and learned about political science — me toward the front of the room, you in the very last row. Every Monday and Wednesday I fell in love with you. Not because of your athletic, six-foot frame (sorry, that’s about all I remember of you because I lack eyes on the back of my head), but because you actually showed up to class.

Although fall semester was a long way away from last week’s NFL Draft, it was common knowledge that you’d get drafted and make the big bucks. So, showing up to class was not really necessary. But you still did.

Call me crazy, but I this seems like a far cry from the perception all those draft gurus painted for us about Davis leading up to the draft.  Yeah - I'll trust Allyson on this one.

So what kind of player on the field will Vontae turn out to be?  We know his goal this year - not for his career, but just for this year - is to be the defensive player of the year.  Seems like he is setting the bar high, but who am I to argue with him?

Ron Zook clearly thinks highly of him:

Zook said there's ''no question'' Davis ''can start from Day One'' and has All-Pro potential. In 30 years coaching -- including in the NFL -- the only defensive back Zook coached ''with that kind of ability is Rod Woodson,'' the ex-Steelers All-Pro.

While we know it's impossible to predict how a player will perform at this level, it really seems like Davis has a chance to be known as an absolute draft day steal in a few years.  Players who possess this kind of talent shouldn't fall to the 25th pick.

I guess we should just all thank those "draft experts" - they made this all possible.