Tony Lippett can appreciate the nuances of the position he’s assigned to defend more than most anybody else in the NFL. Less than two years removed from catching 11 touchdowns and being named an All-Big 10 receiver at Michigan State, Lippett has positioned himself for a significant role at cornerback, where the Dolphins need their young players to mature in a hurry.
Rookie second-round pick Xavien Howard looms as the frontrunner to start opposite veteran Byron Maxwell, but Lippett could emerge as the starter if he outplays Howard.
Lippett said he stopped thinking of himself as a receiver the day Miami picked him in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and immediately informed him he would be a cornerback, a position he hadn’t played since his freshman season in college.
“I like where I’m at,” he said Tuesday following an offseason practice that was closed to reporters. “I’m more comfortable than last year. I became a smarter corner. Every day I’m trying to become this big corner, use my strengths.”
At 6-3, Lippett offers the height and length that fits the prototype of new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. He says he’s getting more comfortable playing the press style that Joseph prefers.
“He harps on it every day, as far as press,” Lippett said. “He loves it. That’s what he wants to do and that’s what all of us are trying to ... get better at.”
Lippett has studied other tall corners — such as Sean Smith, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner — and believes his size “is an advantage. You still have to do what the smaller corners do, be good with your eyes.”
The biggest challenge in the move to corner, he said, is “being patient.”
For example? “Sometimes when you lunge, you can get swept right on by and then the receiver can be on top of you real quick,” he said. “I try to have patience and not lunge.”
Having played receiver “helps me ... knowing how a receiver tries to create leverage.”
Any downside to having been a receiver?
“When the ball is in the air, when he breaks, I turn around and look sometimes,” said Lippett, who had fewer than 10 passes thrown in his coverage area last season, in limited playing time. “When I was a receiver, that’s probably what I did. I try to decrease the habit of doing that.”
▪ Ja’Wuan James, one of four players made available to reporters on Tuesday, said he is fully recovered from the left big toe injury that sidelined him the final nine games last season.
“That was first time being hurt in my career,” he said. “This all feels new and fresh to me.”
Even though rookie first-round pick Laremy Tunsil was a tackle at Mississippi and projects long term as an NFL tackle, James insisted he was excited when Miami drafted Tunsil.
James said he will remain at right tackle. Tunsil is slated to play left guard barring an injury to James or left tackle Branden Albert.
“He’s a guy that wants to learn,” James said of Tunsil. “I respect that about him; really think he can help us.”
▪ Jarvis Landry’s reaction to being named the NFL’s 98th best player in an NFL.com poll of players?
“Honored and disappointed,” he said. “Disappointed because any guy that wasn’t No. 1 believes he should be No. 1. If not, I don’t want to play with them. I don’t want him around me.”
Landry likes new coach Adam Gase because he’s “a great teacher. Great attention-to-detail guy.”
And “the beauty about this offense,” Landry said, “is it puts guys in different positions to create mismatches. ... His offense will allow us to have a better quick game, to keep the quarterback upright.”
Landry said he’s fine regardless of whether he has a role on kickoff and punt returns: “Right now, we’re focused on bringing guys like [rookies] Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake up and seeing what they can do early.”
▪ New defensive end Jason Jones, who visited the Dolphins in March and April, said he also considered overtures from Dallas and Pittsburgh but picked Miami “because I just felt comfortable. My gut feeling is what I went with.”
Ndamukong Suh, his friend and former Lions teammate, sat in on Jones’ interview session, playfully filming it on his phone. But Jones said Suh — who did not speak to reporters — did not try to persuade him to sign with Miami. Jones, primarily a defensive end, can also play tackle.
▪ The Dolphins signed third-round receiver Leonte Carroo and seventh-round tight end Thomas Duarte, leaving third-round running back Kenyan Drake as the team’s only unsigned rookie draft pick.