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If you visited this site a lot during the season, you probably noticed that we spoke a lot about the team's two rookie cornerbacks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. We spoke of them leading up to most games last year - making my list of "key matchups" roughly 70% of the time. Then after the game, there were always a lot of comments - either complimenting or criticizing one (or both) of the corners.
But if you look at the big picture, you can't help but be thrilled with the flashes that these two kids have already shown. Sean Smith became the first rookie cornerback in team history to start all 16 games of his rookie season. He led the team with 12 passes defensed and allowed only 35 receptions on 73 targets - a "burn rate" of 47.9%, the 16th best rate among all corners in 2009. Vontae Davis, meanwhile, led the Dolphins with four interceptions, was second with 11 passes defensed, and took one interception back for six points. Davis, though, was burnt on 60.5% of the passes thrown his way (46 receptions on 76 targets).
On November 1, Davis and Smith both started the game as Miami's two corners - marking the first time in Dolphin history rookies started at both corner positions.
Despite their ups and downs, though, these kids got valuable starting experience. And now the two are receiving their "props" from some of the game's great cornerbacks as well as an all-time legend at the position.
It all started following the Pro Bowl on Sunday. That's when Ethan Skolnick had a chance to catch up with two of the best corners in the game - Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis. Both had high praise for the Dolphins' two young corners.
Asomugha spoke highly of Smith:
"I saw him playing in the Jets game that came on national TV. I was impressed with the way he was using his hands at the line of scrimmage. A lot of times when you get a longer guy, early in his career, he doesn't figure out that he can use his hands at the line of scrimmage. I was happy that he had figured that out. And he's already getting playing time as a rookie, so he's already ahead of where I was. I didn't start playing corner until my third year in the league. The sky's the limit for a guy with that size."
Truth be told, Sean's size is what really grabbed my attention around this time last year. If you were around here last year, then you know that Smith was my #1 guy leading up to the 2009 draft. It's rare you find a corner with Smith's combination of size and athleticism. You also need to remember that Smith has only played the position of cornerback for about three years. Prior to that, he was actually a wide receiver.
So the sky is indeed the limit.
Meanwhile, Revis praised Vontae - and his swagger and work ethic, in particular:
"Vontae's good, man. Vontae's real good. I saw him the other day, he's like, 'I'm going to be there (in the Pro Bowl) with you next year. I said, 'Hey, come on, man.' You've got to have a little confidence, and that's the thing I like about him, is he will go up against guys and he's not scared. He wants the competition. He's going to be here sooner or later. He even told me, 'I want to watch film with you, to see how you study.' So he just wants to get better."
You have to love that kind of commitment. The kid really wants to be one of the best in the game. And so much for those "character issues" that hurt Vontae's draft stock. Yet again, it seems as though the media made those red flags out to be much worse than they really were. Every report about Vontae - from teammates and from reporters - is always a positive one in terms of Vontae's character.
As if the above compliments weren't enough, legendary corner Deion Sanders said on Tuesday during media day that he already places Smith and Davis among "the five best tandems" in the league. Now that's some high freakin' praise.
Of course, talk means nothing once the whistle blows and the ball is kicked off. But you can't help but be optimistic about two young corners (Smith is only 22, Davis is only 21) who are already considered a top cornerback tandem by one of the greatest to ever play the position.