Miami Dolphins CB Xavien Howard back with eye on winning starting job

August 28, 2016 GMT

If rookie cornerback Xavien Howard is healthy enough to play, which he appears to be, that’s allthe Dolphinsneed to know. Whether he’s got a thorough grasp of the defensive system won’t matter much considering his job is as straightforward as it gets.

“I think we’re good to go,” coach Adam Gase said after practice Sunday afternoon. “If we lined up in Game 1 tomorrow he could play.

Howard has beenon the practice fieldthe past week and a half — the team held him out of last week’s preseason game in Orlando — and convinced the staff it can move forward with him in the mix to start the opener Sept. 11 in Seattle. He’ll get one live rehearsal for that in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Titans.

Miami traded up four spots in the second round to draft Howard and did so hoping he could be a starting-caliber player immediately. That plan seemed to hit a snag when he injured his right knee on the final day of minicamp in June, and he was out the first three weeks of training camp.

Since his return, he has been putting himself in contention for a job with his speed and instinctive coverage skills. He ran with the first team Sunday and showed no lingering effects of the injury.

“I feel way better,” Howard said. “I don’t even worry about (my) leg no more. There’s no setback, so I’m just feeling good.”

The Dolphins started sixth-year veteran Byron Maxwell and Tony Lippett at cornerback in the last game, so one of them is likely in line to lose their spot to Howard. Lippett, a fifth-round pick last year, struggled last week against the Falcons, but Gase has spoken highly of him during the preseason.

The team is also waiting on veteran Chris Culliver, who is on the Physically Unable to Perform List because of a knee injury.

Howard is the ideal of what Miami is looking for in a cornerback, starting with his 6-foot-1, 198-pound frame, 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash and surplus of confidence “I’m going to be around the ball every time you see me,” he said. He wasan elite cover manat Baylor last season and has played at that level when healthy since coming to the Dolphins.

“I got a couple reps with him last week and one with him today, and I think he’s back,” rookie wide receiver Leonte Carroo said. “He’s a spectacular player that can help us out tremendously this year. Him being out, he got a chance to learn the game mentally and prepare himself, and now he looks back to normal.”

The only requirement left in Howard’s mind is getting his first taste of somewhat live NFL action — most teams prefer to keep their best players out of the final preseason game — and getting a gauge of how quick the pace is. The Dolphins have simulated that for him as much as possible in practice, but there’s no true substitute for seeing it in a game situation.

“That’s the main point that I’m worried about,” he said, “just getting my feet wet and getting in there.”