This should be the Year of Xavien Howard.
It’s possible no Dolphins player has looked better at his job this preseason than Howard, who has established himself as their unquestioned No. 1 cornerback. He was promising as a rookie, showed signs of catching on last year and now he seems like he’s on the cusp of something big.
“I’m just so excited and ready to go,” he said after this morning’s practice. “The first game against Tennessee, I’m ready to go. With the preseason stuff, I’m trying to compete and get better, but the season is coming.”
This is the player the Dolphins imagined when they drafted him in the second round in 2016, and he could solve a position that’s been problematic throughout Adam Gase’s time as head coach.
As the Dolphins continue shuffling their secondary, the two starters they can count on are Howard and safety Reshad Jones. Howard has been a nonstop headache for Miami receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker on the practice field and is poised to announce himself to the league this season.
Stills said there’s a clear difference between how Howard played last year and what he’s looked like this month, admitting, “it’s a lot harder to beat him on the basic things now.”
There are times when offseason hype evaporates once it gets close to the season, but that hasn’t happened with Howard. There’s been no drop-off during training camp. A few days ago, he erased Parker from the offense for virtually the entire practice.
“I just try to build on each day,” he said. “I’m working for consistency. I’ve had a bad day — a couple bad days when I first got out here. I had to get back to it. I was watching some film to catch up.”
Howard, the No. 38 overall pick in his class, was derailed by injuries his first year, and Gase pointed out last season that he was essentially still a rookie when it came to game experience.
He got progressively more comfortable as the year went on, though, and played terrifically at the end of the season. He intercepted Tom Brady twice in the epic Monday Night Football victory over the Patriots for his second straight two-interception game.
Howard finished the year with four interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 48 tackles in 16 starts. That sent him confidently into the offseason, which has obviously been productive.
“I got older,” said Howard, who turned 25 last month. “I’m going into my third year now, so I’ve got some experience. Just being out there on the field helped build my confidence. I’m seeing what I can do out here and then taking it into the game.
“It goes by fast, man. It feels like I got drafted yesterday. But I’ve got a lot more knowledge of the game now. Getting to be around guys like T.J. (McDonald), Bobby (McCain), Tony (Lippett) and Reshad Jones really helped me build up my confidence and my knowledge.”
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