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And, now, after taking different paths to get to Miami, they’re teammates again, and both are making an impression in training camp and the early stages of the preseason.
The two were reunited when the Dolphins signed Davis on the last day of July, about 10 weeks after they had claimed McNutt on waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles.
It goes without saying that McNutt approved when Davis was one of the two players signed after the Dolphins had to find replacements for injured wide receivers Armon Binns and Jasper Collins.
“Man, it was a great pick-up,” McNutt said. “Obviously, you love to see other Hawkeyes on the team, familiar faces. You always welcome, go Hawks, everywhere you go.”
Davis and McNutt both started at wide receiver for Iowa in the 2011 season when McNutt led the team with 82 receptions and Davis was second with 50.
Two years later, they’re both trying to impress the Dolphins coaching staff enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. And both are well aware of the possibility that the last spot at wide receiver could come down to one or the other.
“We’re both competitors, so when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, hey, of course, I’m going to get it,” McNutt said before breaking out laughing. “No, but really, if it comes down to it, we’re all here to play football and if we’re those last two guys or however it could work out, we must have put ourselves in a pretty good position.”
The two former Iowa receivers are similar in style, both tall receivers with the ability to get open and catch the ball in traffic.
Something else the two have in common is that they’ve made themselves noticed on the practice field. Head Coach Joe Philbin has had words of praise for both of them at different times during training camp.
McNutt might have been the most productive receiver on the team in the early days of camp and he was the one who got the start in the Hall of Fame Game against Dallas opposite free agent acquisition
“Man, it was huge for me,” said McNutt, who appeared in four games with the Eagles as a rookie in 2012 but didn’t catch a pass. “An opportunity to be in the starting lineup with the Miami Dolphins, technically it’s a dream come true. Even if it is a preseason game, to be in the starting lineup on an NFL team is amazing.”
After being held without a catch in the preseason opener, McNutt came back with a strong performance in the 27-3 victory at Jacksonville. He had one catch for 17 yards to convert a third-down situation, gained 12 yards on an end-around to give the Dolphins a first-and-goal in the second quarter, and earlier drew a pass-interference penalty on third down to keep alive the drive that ended with the team’s first touchdown.
Davis, meanwhile, started making catches from his very first practice with the Dolphins and he hasn’t really stopped.
Against Dallas in the preseason opener, Davis caught three passes for 48 yards and scored the Dolphins’ first touchdown of the preseason on a 5-yard reception from
Davis, though, didn’t want to make a big deal out of his performance.
“I’ve never been big on praising myself over stuff that we’re supposed to do,” he said. “It’s just another day at work. I’m still feeling my way out there, still thinking. It’s real tough to come out here in a week and learn the whole thing. I feel like I’m making good progress, but still have a lot of work to do.”
While McNutt was a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft, Davis was not selected this past April before signing as a rookie free agent with the Cleveland Browns.
But Davis was thrown for a loss when he was waived by the Browns on July 24, the day they held their first practice of training camp. Seven days later, he was signed by the Dolphins.
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Davis said. “But I just kept working, just waiting for the call. That’s what everybody needs to do, if that situation happens, just stay in shape and hope for the best.
“I have a really good support group at home. My mom, my agent, they all helped me out. They told me to keep my head up. My mom made me go work out every day. I was up and at it and just waited for the call and (was) patient.”
Among those who reached out to Davis was, not surprisingly, McNutt.
The words of encouragement were simple.
“Keep your chin up, better things will come,” McNutt recalled. “Obviously also you’re going to be playing football again. God has a plan for everything that he does.”
Once Davis joined the Dolphins, McNutt made sure to help out as much as he could, mainly by helping Davis with the playbook and answering any question Davis might have had.
McNutt, though, wasn’t the only familiar face that Davis would rejoin in Miami. Another was wide receivers coach Ken O’Keefe, who had been offensive coordinator at Iowa before he joined the Dolphins staff in 2012.
“It makes me a little bit at home,” Davis said. “When I was in Cleveland, I didn’t know anybody. It’s like going to college as a freshman. You’re kind of quiet, feeling around for things. But here I can just open up. Marv helped me out, so did O’Keefe. It makes you feel more at home.”
Ultimately, Davis and McNutt both know their purpose and goal this summer. Their reunion makes for a good story, but they’re also two young players at the same position, which means they’re in competition.
“Competing against everybody, though,” Davis pointed out. “In college I was competing against him. You’re competing against the defense, you’re competing against everybody. We’re best friends; that’s my brother. So me and him are just going to go out and try to make each other better.”