Dolphins rookie cornerback Xavien Howard sustained a knee injury during Tuesday’s practice, and his availability for Sunday’s home game against Tennessee is in doubt.
Coach Adam Gase said the injury is “not a major deal” but that the team has “to be careful” because Howard had a knee procedure in June.
“He got tangled up [Tuesday],” Gase said. “We’re still in the evaluation stage with him. We’re going to get through the rest of this week and … see where it takes us here leading up to Sunday.”
If Howard cannot play, Byron Maxwell likely would start opposite Tony Lippett. Maxwell was benched for the Cincinnati game.
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“When I watch [Maxwell] practice the last two days, he’s come out and he’s competed, and that’s what we expect from him,” Gase said. “When his opportunity comes in games, we’re looking for him to make plays. We’re looking for him to get hands on the ball. We’re looking for him to have tight coverage.”
Running back Arian Foster, who has missed the past two games with a groin/hamstring injury, participated in the individual part of practice, but Gase made clear he doesn’t want to rush Foster back too quickly.
“I know he’s itching to get back,” Gase said. “We just want to make sure that we’re smart. We don’t want to do the, ‘All right you’re up, now you’re down for two games.’ We want to make sure when we get him back, we’ve got him back for the duration.”
If Foster doesn’t play Sunday, the Dolphins will use their young running backs, including Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake.
Though Drake, after being drafted, declined to answer any question about Alabama coach Nick Saban, Gase said playing for Saban was advantageous for the rookie.
“Being in that system with Coach Saban, that benefits guys quite a bit,” Gase said of the former Dolphins coach. “Just the way that you should practice, the way that you should go about your business. Sometimes, young guys get off track a little bit. They forget what the most important thing is for you, and that’s this.”
▪ Left tackle Branden Albert hasn’t practiced the past two days because of illness but Gase expects him to play Sunday.
“He’s been sick the last two days,” Gase said. “He was here for a walk-through and meetings. He should be OK.”
Besides Howard and Albert, linebacker Jelani Jenkins (groin) and tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) also did not practice.
Foster, linebacker Koa Misi and centers Mike Pouncey and Anthony Steen were limited.
The Dolphins will not practice on Thursday.
▪ Before the Howard injury, another change in the secondary was being considered at safety.
Isa Abdul-Quddus has played most of the snaps at free safety, but the Dolphins said Tuesday they are considering splitting reps between Abdul-Quddus and Michael Thomas.
Pro Football Focus ranks Reshad Jones fourth among all safeties through four weeks of the season and Abdul-Quddus 22nd. Thomas, who has been sharing nickel corner duties with Bobby McCain, is rated 31st among cornerbacks.
▪ Tennessee running back DeMarco Murray, acquired from Philadelphia, is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and will test a Dolphins defense that ranks 29th against the run.
Gase said he did not recall Murray’s name coming up in trade talks when the Dolphins traded down five picks in the draft to acquire Maxwell and Kiko Alonso from Philadelphia.
▪ The Dolphins have 10 sacks (tied for ninth in the league), and one issue is that teams are using a lot of quick throws and three-step drops.
“It’s been difficult, especially last game,” defensive end Mario Williams said. “If you time snap to throw, it’s pretty quick. At the same time, we’ve got to find a way to manage that; try to find a way to stop the quick throws however we can, if it’s tighter coverage, or us getting our hands up or whatever. We’ve got to figure something out because it is, more than not, quick passes so far.”
▪ Sunday will be a matchup of two of the league’s most anemic offenses so far. The Dolphins are averaging 17.8 points, tied for 28th in the league. The Titans are averaging 15.5 points, tied with Chicago for worst in the league.
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