The Miami Dolphins are in town for a pair of joint practices at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters, and in advance of that visit we suggested five head-to-head matchups that would be particularly interesting on the AdventHealth Training Center fields. The first of those was Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis and Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
It took all of one rep on Wednesday morning to prove that contention right. After separate individual-position drills, the Bucs and Dolphins first engaged each other with one-on-one drills, including receivers versus defensive backs. Miami threw out their new number-one receiver, Hill, for the first snap in that drill and the Bucs countered with their top cornerback, Davis. Round One went to Davis, as he broke up Tua Tagovailoa's pass before it could get to Hill.
"I guess that is a good tone-setter, just starting it off fresh, because usually you've got to get into it," said Davis after practice. "You're a little cold coming off, just starting practice, but I was ready. I've been up against him a couple of times in the past so I kind of know a little bit about his release packages and what he brings to the table. But at the end of the day it's about competing. It's about you wanting to win, and I got the best of him on that rep."
That was the start of a fine day for Davis, the Bucs' fifth-year defender who got a new contract befitting of an elite corner during the offseason. One-on-one drills favor the pass-catchers, as there is no pass rush or any other defensive help, but Davis broke up the pass on two of his three reps against Hill. He also snared an interception in a later drill.
"I thought Carlton looked very good. Carlton's sharp, he's in shape," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "The guy beat him two years ago. Obviously, he was younger and it's two years later. Tyreek's gotten better, Carlton's gotten better. I think they're making each other better. So it was good competition on both sides."
As Bowles hints at, there is history here. Hill was with the Kansas City Chiefs before a trade this offseason, and the Bucs met the Chiefs twice in 2020. Kansas City won at Raymond James Stadium in Week 12 of the regular season and Hill finished with 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns. He had 75 and 44-yard touchdown grabs in the first quarter alone. The Chiefs won, 27-24, but the Bucs rallied to make it close and then didn't lose again that season. That included the rematch, again at Raymond James Stadium, in Super Bowl LV. Tampa Bay's defense dominated that won and Davis helped keep Hill in check. Hill did not score; in fact, the Chiefs' offense never found the end zone.
Obviously, Davis is more fond of that second game, but he feels like the first one is an important part of his story, as well.
"That's something that's going to stick with you," he said. "Just having an off game, and then coming back and playing a great game in the Super Bowl, that's something that's going to always be a part of my memory, just because it was a pivotal moment in the season both times for us. Going up against him today was a good flashback. It was fun to get out there and just face him. Let's do it again. As a corner, I feel like you've got to have that mentality, to always want work, to always want to go up against whoever puts you to the test. Whoever's out there. So it was fun."
Davis explained that his interception came when his opponent ran a dig route while he was in off coverage.
"When I play off that's one of the routes you should not run on me because I'm just good at playing it," he said matter-of-factly. "I just broke on it, seen the ball. I didn't see it on film so I can't tell you blow by blow, but I just made a play on the ball – seen it coming and got my hands on it."
Miami's offense, which struggled quite a bit in 2021, could be much more productive and explosive in 2022. To aid in Tagovailoa's development, the team brought in a strong offensive mind in new Head Coach Mike McDaniel, traded for Hill, signed stud left tackle Terron Armstead in free agency and added a whole new stable of running backs (Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel). The flashy duo of Hill and 2020 first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, in particular, could stress a lot of defensive backfields. The Bucs held up fairly well, at least in that first drill.
"I was happy with one-on-ones," said Bowles. "I thought we challenged pretty well. They've got two great receivers over there and I thought we held up well with the competition. They're making strides."
Of course, the Bucs and Dolphins will go at it again on Thursday morning and it will be a fresh challenge for both sides. Though he fared well on Wednesday, Davis knows that Hill will always be a tough out.
"He's a different kind of receiver all around," said the Buccaneer defender. "He brings something to the game that no other receiver does, so to be able to go up against him in practice, especially early on in camp, just helps you fine-tune your skills and your technique. It was pretty good today. I'm excited to go back up against him tomorrow, him and Waddle. They're just two fast, twitchy guys that you've just got to love and embrace going up against them. Like I said, there's no other receivers in the league that can do what they do."