What's next for Colts' Vontae Davis?

Coming off his first Pro Bowl, the elite cover cornerback is still challenged to improve and can't rely on his past NFL success.

ANDERSON, Ind. — Vontae Davis is the highest-paid player on the Indianapolis Colts roster, he’s coming off his first Pro Bowl season and the cornerback just got married.

Life is good. Real good.

So what’s next?

Davis says he wants to be even better. How can he accomplish this? Head coach Chuck Pagano suggested Tuesday at training camp that perhaps the next step in the cover guy’s progression is to line up against the opposition’s best receiver no matter what, instead of playing a specific side, the Colts’ customary coverage routine.

Davis, 27, sounds ready for anything in his seventh NFL season, the fourth year with the Colts since he was acquired for a second-round draft choice from Miami.

“I’ve just got to continue to work,” he said after a morning walk-through at Anderson University. “It’s good to have the respect, but like I said, you’ve got to never forget where you come from. So I still have a chip, still working to be the best and continue to work at my craft.”

The Colts saw a young player coming into his own and paid handsomely to retain his services before 2014. He signed a four-year, $36-million deal, and the big year in the contract is this season, when he is scheduled to count $11,250,000.

That’s a lot of money — the next closest cap hit is wide receiver Andre Johnson at $7.5 million — but Davis is playing the best football of his career. He’s clearly coming into his own as one of the game’s best cover guys.

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Last season, teams started avoiding Davis in the pass game. It’s the ultimate compliment, when quarterbacks rarely test a cover guy, even if he’s covering the best receiver. He tied a career-high with four interceptions in addition to making 42 tackles. The latter was actually a career low, but proof that opponents thought it wise to steer clear of him.

Pagano reminds NFL players are judged daily, so no one has the luxury of resting on previous success.

“Again, what he’s done in the past means zero,” the coach said. “What we’ve done in the past means zero. We’re judged on a daily basis and he’s no different and he’s got to play at a high, high level.”

The suggestion that the Colts might move Davis around to defend opposing No. 1 wide receivers would be an interesting switch in the 3-4 scheme. If effective, that makes teams have to adjust in trying to get the ball to their top targets. Inevitably, Davis will get challenged because teams don’t like to stray too often from their strengths.

That should mean more opportunities for Davis to make plays. And if he does, yet again, then opponents likely revert to avoiding him.

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“We’ve got to be able to do whatever we want with him,” Pagano said. “And so if that means putting him on somebody’s best wide receiver instead of just playing one side of the (field), then maybe that’s the next progression. We’ll see.

“We’ve got to pick and choose how we’re going to defend people and stop people and identify their game-wreckers, the guys that are going to make plays and those types of things. But he’s going to continue to grow from a physical standpoint, knowing the opponent. Once you get our scheme down, and you’re not thinking out there, you can spend a ton of time studying your opponent and the guys he’s going to go up against.”

Davis plays with a fearless tenacity at a position that requires confidence and short-term memory.

When the Dolphins traded him before the 2012 season, it would be human nature to question why. He insists that didn’t happen.

“Nah, that’s the thing I didn’t do, was doubt myself, you know,” Davis said with a smile. “I just came in to work and, like I said, I got better as a pro and better as a player, and hard work pays off.”

He acknowledges the obvious, that he’s playing the best football of his career right now.

“Oh yeah, I feel like I’m just getting better as a pro, better as a player and a person,” he said, “and you can continue to grow.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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