Rookie starting cornerback Xavien Howard needs surgery to repair a meniscus injury in his right knee and is out indefinitely, coach Adam Gase said Friday.
That means the Dolphins will start both Byron Maxwell and Tony Lippett on Sunday; they had benched the former for the latter in Week 4.
Howard got injured when his legs tangled up with Kenny Stills’ during a one-on-one drill in practice Tuesday.
“Innocent play,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
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Howard’s timetable to return is unknown, but he could miss up to six weeks.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, Chris Culliver is on track to play soon. The veteran cornerback is eligible to return for the Oct. 23 game against Buffalo. Culliver tore his ACL last November.
Howard missed all of training camp because of surgery to repair an injury in the same knee.
That means the Dolphins will give another chance to Maxwell, who was acquired with the thinking that he would be their No. 1 corner.
In the first three games, Maxwell “had some issues with soft coverage and obviously missed tackles,” Joseph said. “But the last two weeks in practice, he’s kind of rectified those things. He’s a press corner and I want him to press most of the time.
“He’s got some splits where he was forced to play off and it kind of led to him being off too often. The tackling stuff, he’s got to tackle better. He’s got to play better. He recognizes that.”
▪ Howard was one of three players ruled out Friday in Miami’s final injury report of the week.
The others: linebacker Koa Misi (neck) and tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion). Donald Butler will start for Misi at strong-side linebacker.
“He’s an experienced linebacker,” Joseph said of Butler. “He’s played on good defenses. He’s a tough inside ’backer that can fit the run game. In coverage, he’s been fine.”
Running back Arian Foster is doubtful after practicing on a limited basis all week. Foster has not played since injuring his groin/hamstring in Week 2.
Meanwhile, Dolphins will likely have the offensive line they envisioned all offseason on Sunday.
Left tackle Branden Albert joined center Mike Pouncey back at practice Friday, an encouraging sign that the two missing pieces from Week 4 will be on the field in Week 5.
Albert sat out the Bengals game with an ankle injury and missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday because of an illness.
Pouncey, meanwhile, hasn’t played all year after fracturing his hip in mid-August.
The Dolphins listed both as questionable to play.
▪ Two other Dolphins are questionable for Sunday: linebacker Jelani Jenkins (groin) and center Anthony Steen (ankle).
▪ Joseph said the Dolphins do not intend to change the role of backup defensive end Cameron Wake, who has played just 96 snaps in four games.
“Cam is our specialty rusher,” Joseph said. “To use Cam more, it’s got to be more of a passing game. Last four weeks hasn’t been that. Maybe Cleveland was kind of like that, middle third and fourth quarter. His role won’t change much. We’ve got to lead so Cam can get more snaps. Until that, he is going to be third-down rusher.”