Dolphins rookie roommates cornered in competition

Aug 20, 2009 - 7:39 PM By ANTONIO GONZALEZ Associated Press Writer

DAVIE, Fla.(AP) -- Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are not only two of the top picks for the Miami Dolphins, they're friends and roommates. Except there's one topic the rookie cornerbacks don't speak about at night.

Work is off-limits.

While they might share the same roof for training camp, there's that silent truth that's always there: Only one of them will likely be a starting cornerback this season.

"We just don't talk about it," Smith said. "But we know what we're competing for."

The competition to start opposite veteran Will Allen was ramped up this week when the Dolphins released Eric Green, who signed as a free agent in the offseason and began camp practicing as a starter. Green's short tenure was a struggle, and the pressure put on by Miami's rookies was enough for the team to accelerate the move toward the future.

Now it's Davis vs. Smith. First-round pick vs. second-round pick. Roommate vs. Roommate.

"One of them has to play, and one of them has to step up because it's just a numbers game," Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder said. "One of them has to be in the game."

Neither rookie is a typical cornerback.

Smith, drafted in the second round out of Utah, is long and lean, with a 6-foot-3, 214-pound body built more like a safety. Davis, Miami's first-round choice from Illinois, is shorter and stronger at 5-foot-11 and a chiseled 203 pounds.

The two have started to separate themselves already, with early returns perhaps not what Miami was expecting on draft day.

Smith has earned himself a spot on the first team in practice, and his place there was strengthened after Monday night's exhibition opener against Jacksonville. In his first professional game, Smith made an interception in the end zone and shut down Torry Holt in their limited time on the field.

Davis was another story. He was flagged for pass interference on a third down, for fair-catch interference on a punt, and for a personal foul on a punt return. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano didn't sugarcoat the early results that have put Davis behind.

"He made poor decisions in a few areas. Young-guy decisions in a few areas," Sparano said. "You make corrections and then you go back again this week and you take a look and you put them out there and hope some guys make corrections. If you see the same mistakes the guy made the previous week, now you got problems."

The field might be the only place where things between Davis and Smith get competitive. From the start of offseason activities, the two quickly bonded.

Both are laid back. Both love to hit. And both love to talk.

"My right-hand man right there," Smith said. "The first day of practice, I can't remember what exactly the play was, but Vontae made a hit and then started jarring. I got excited. It was like we were almost identical."

Miami hopes that pact only tightens.

The Dolphins are not just seeking a replacement for starter Andre' Goodman, who signed with Denver in the offseason, they are looking for the duo to eventually start together and shore up a position that has been one of Miami's weakest.

But any talk about being franchise cornerbacks might be premature.

Preseason performances don't mean much. And Miami's secondary will have to face New England's Randy Moss and Buffalo's Terrell Owens in the division twice a year, a pair of receivers that has historically run roughshod on the Dolphins' defense.

Miami's rookie cornerbacks only hope it's a matter of time before they're on the field together. So they'll hold off on any such conversation about who's starting this year or if they can be stars in the NFL.

"We'll have time for that," Davis said. "We just want the best for each other. We're guys that have to grow up fast."

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