Boom-or-bust works in dusty oil towns. Not so much in the defensive backfield.
So that’s why Will Davis, the Dolphins’ second-year cornerback, is sensitive to the label — even if he concedes that there is a kernel of truth to it.
“When you look at [the criticism] and [if] it’s right, it is right,” Davis said recently. “I know one thing: Coaches want me to be more consistent. And that was one thing coming into camp, I can’t give up anything deep in the games. Definitely, it was one thing that I knew I had to work on, being consistent. Can’t just make a great play, then give up a bomb.”
So far, so good for Davis. He has been steadier in practice this year and has done enough in the minds of coaches to move past Jamar Taylor for the nickel corner job — at least for the time being.
The competition remains open, a source said, but Davis is projected to again be the first Miami corner off the bench when the Dolphins host the Cowboys on Saturday night in preseason game No. 3.
“That’s one of the most athletic people I’ve ever been around,” safety Louis Delmas said. “He goes up for the ball. He’s very fast, and he’s somewhat physical. He’s doing a tremendous job at working on his craft and trying to get better each and every day. That’s all we can ask for from him.”
Davis, a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, will face his tallest task of the preseason Saturday. Three-time Pro Bowler Tony Romo is expected to start at quarterback for the Cowboys. And he’ll be looking for his dynamic receiver, Dez Bryant — Davis’ potential assignment.
While Cortland Finnegan will start alongside Brent Grimes at cornerback, Finnegan will likely cover the slot when the Dolphins go to their sub package. That means Davis will be responsible for the boundary, where the big, fast and physical Bryant makes his living.
“When I come in, I know it’s another opportunity to make another play,” Davis said. “I get excited, especially knowing, [being] young last year, didn’t have no play. I know I’m going to have a lot of opportunities right now and just make the most of them.”
Last season was a lost rookie year for Davis, who injured his toe in the preseason and never really caught up. Davis appeared in five games and saw just a few-dozen snaps on defense.
When he was in the game, Davis struggled. Quarterbacks completed 80 percent of their passes thrown in Davis’ coverage area last year, good for a passer rating of 111.7.
Davis, on his rookie season: “It was hard. I’m not going to lie. It was super tough.”
Year 2 has been markedly better. Davis is healthy, and he has benefited from a full offseason in the system.
While Davis still occasionally gets beat -- the Dolphins pulled him from the first team Tuesday after he stumbled on a deep route and allowed a long completion -- the breakdowns are less frequent.
This preseason, Davis has allowed just three of the 10 passes thrown his way to be completed. Seven of those incompletions were caused by Davis pass-breakups.
Because of when they were drafted, Davis and Taylor will always be linked -- and compared -- to one another. The Dolphins took Taylor 39 spots ahead of Davis on the second day of the 2013 draft, and they've been competing for playing time ever since.
Observers see Taylor as the more consistent of the two. He's allowed just one completion this preseason. But Davis' risks, for the most part, have resulted in greater rewards.
He's essentially had one negative play in the preseason -- a pass interference call in the Buccaneers game that negated a Jason Trusnik interception. And Davis isn't even conceding that mistake.
"Bogus PI call," Davis said. "Terrible PI call. ... That one I felt like was terrible. I had a chance to guard a double-move and played it solid."
He continued: "This year, I've been taking advantage of my opportunities. I don't want nothing caught on me, slants, nothing. I'm trying to get everything down. This year, I'm definitely more disciplined, definitely more confident. It's fun. Definitely being out there with the ones, it's exciting."
• Running back Daniel Thomas (hamstring) worked with trainers during part of Thursday's walk-through practice, and did not at all sound confident that he would play Saturday. Thomas, who is fighting to make the roster, has yet to appear in a preseason game.
"I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary to have four [running backs on the active roster]," Philbin said. "I don’t want to get pigeonholed to say we’re going to keep four, we’re only going to keep three, or five. I mean, it could be five. It’s just, every year, it’s kind of different."
• While Shelley Smith has moved past Dallas Thomas on the depth chart at right guard, both got work with the starters during practice Thursday.
• Charles Clay (knee) is expected to play Saturday. Kick returner Marcus Thigpen and kicker Caleb Sturgis both remain limited by injury. Sturgis' replacement, John Potter, hit both of his field goal attempts Thursday.