What Vontae Davis Has To Improve On Next Season

Jonathan Daniel

As Vontae Davis heads into his second season with the Colts, it's time to examine the expectations for him as the team's No. 1 cornerback.

No matter how you feel about Vontae Davis' play last season, you're probably right.

Think he was undisciplined in coverage and was a poor tackler in run defense? His performances against Chicago and Houston in Week 15 back up that sentiment.

Or maybe you remember Davis as a sticky pass defender and a reliable playmaker? That was how he played against Cleveland, Tennessee in Week 14 and Houston in Week 17.

When Davis was traded to the Colts on Aug. 26, he only had 14 days to prepare for the Colts first regular season game on Sept. 9. Two weeks to get down the terminology, mesh with his teammates and create a role for himself on defense. He was about six months behind every other player on a team that had been completely rebuilt over the offseason.

Yeah, that doesn't sound like an easy adjustment for anyone.

I remember trying to be optimistic at the beginning of last season about how Davis would perform, but for a player who had been so up-and-down in his career with the Dolphins, is it really any surprise that he was so up-and-down with the situation he was traded into with the Colts?

Even the guys at Football Outsiders were split what kind of player Davis really was last year.

From Andy Benoit, on the state of the Colts back on March 30:

Davis is on the cusp of being a top-10 cornerback. He operates well in true man coverage, makes plays on the ball, and is a very effective tackler in space near the line of scrimmage. It's vital that the Colts find someone to play across from him.

Sounds great, right? But then move onto this article by Rivers McCown on the same website and you'll see Davis ranked as one of the worst 10 cornerbacks in the league last year at yards given up per pass. Unsurprisingly, McCown was a little less enthusiastic about Davis.

Player X is Vontae Davis, who is probably the most surprising entry on this list. I don't bring up these scouting blurbs to pick on Andy, I just found his reports on Davis to be a huge departure from what we are now looking at statistically. I didn't watch every Colts game with an emphasis on Davis or anything, but I do spend a lot of time with the AFC South because I root for the Texans. At no time did I thought Davis lived up to Andy's opinions of him. I can appreciate the physical talents, but I don't think he has shed the "mercurial" label yet.

It takes a really inconsistent player to cause this kind of difference in opinion. Davis certainly was one in 2012, establishing himself as a valuable cornerback in the last six games of the season after battling injuries and mental errors in the first 12.

If he builds on his good finish from last year, Davis can prove himself as the best player in the Colts secondary, and maybe the entire defense. In order to do that, he needs to clean up the parts of his game that kept him from being that player last season. That's why I'm giving him a performance checklist below, if he hasn't already made one, on areas that he can improve.

Injuries

Davis has never landed on the injured reserve in his four-year career, but he's still been an injury-prone player. Hamstring and knee problems plagued him even before last season. Now that he's missed 10 of a possible 64 games since he came into the league, he needs to prove that he can be on the field every week.

As of right now, Davis' injury history coupled with Greg Toler's own health problems negates what should be better depth at cornerback for the Colts this season. Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn were the starting cornerbacks for a brief while last season, and that could easily happen again if Davis and Toler keep finding themselves in the training room and off the field.

I know, it's tough to just tell someone to "stay healthy". The NFL is a violent league. When someone is willing to throw their body around and painfully try to knock someone back at full speed, just to save a few extra yards, injuries will happen.

But that's the life every player has to endure. Bob Sanders, Marlin Jackson and Austin Collie all faced that problem and lost. Davis just has to make sure these nagging injuries don't creep up as often instead of going down paths like those.

Run Support

Physicality is something Davis could improve on in all aspects of his game, to be honest. Run defense is where it has to start, though. Most of Davis' film from last season showed he was easy to block out of run plays to his side and didn't cause running backs to change direction often enough.

When he did get his hands on the ball carrier, he usually wasn't effective at bringing them down. In just 606 snaps in the regular season, Davis missed eight tackles, ranking near the bottom of the league based on number of plays, per Pro Football Focus. (Fun fact: Jerraud Powers missed 11 tackles in 514 snaps. Greg Toler missed 0 tackles in 308 snaps. Health permitting, that's a slight upgrade.)

Davis has never been known to be anything close to Antoine Winfield or Charles Tillman with his run defense, so I don't expect that to suddenly change. I only expect him to make less mistakes and go from being awful to average at it.

Penalties

This is where those mental errors really creep up for Davis. Last season, he racked up 10 penalties, two which were declined or offset. Only Jerry Hughes and Cassius Vaughn had more penalties on the entire team.

Remember, Davis only played 606 snaps due to a knee injury that kept him out of seven games. So when I say he was one of the most-penalized cornerbacks in the league, I mean that in a nice way. It could have been much worse for him.

For me, this is the most frustrating of Davis' issues. A large amount of penalties usually comes down to a lack of discipline and focus, which Davis has been criticized for throughout his whole career.

Luckily, that knock on him could have come more from his maturity than his play on the field. Davis was pretty good about not drawing flags when he was with the Dolphins. He most notably had only one penalty in 17 games during the best season of his career in 2010. In 2009, he had seven penalties in 16 games. And in 2011, he had five penalties in 12 games.

While this may have been Davis' biggest problem while he was on the field last season, it may also be the easiest one to fix.

If you're keeping a close eye on Davis this year, watch for any improvement in these three areas. Now that he's had a year to learn the Colts system and feel comfortable in his role, it's fair to expect improvement with it. The difference could be what turns him into the first elite cornerback the Colts have had in a very long time.

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