Byron Maxwell has had better days of practice.
He spent much of Saturday, the Dolphins’ first contact session of training camp, chasing his offensive teammates.
DeVante Parker caught a slant on him early. Kenny Stills beat Maxwell on an out route. And Jarvis Landry turned him around once, too.
Those hiccups came in contrast to an otherwise excellent day by Miami’s defense. Dolphins quarterbacks threw three interceptions Saturday, including two by Ryan Tannehill.
But when Maxwell jogged off the field and toward the locker room, his confidence was as strong as ever.
Maxwell, who called himself the league’s No. 1 cornerback last December, doubled down on that bold assessment as he begins his second season with Miami.
“Yeah, I do,” Maxwell responded, when asked if he still considers himself as the league’s best. “But, obviously, I know that I need to put that work in again to get to that point. It’s like starting all over again. But yeah, I definitely feel that way, yeah.”
And Maxwell won’t be happy until the rest of the league feels the same. Although he didn’t concern himself with making the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams earlier in his career, he now wants the respect and recognition from colleagues and fans.
“It never was [important before],” Maxwell said, “but as I’m getting later in my career, and I know what those things mean to your legacy, yeah, of course, it means everything to me. I want those things. I also want a Super Bowl. That’s the most important thing. That’s the ultimate goal. But, yeah, very important.”
Maxwell probably needs to put together a full season to get that sort of love.
Because two months before he was channeling Muhammad Ali — “I’m the greatest!” — he couldn’t even get on the field. Then-defensive coordinator Vance Joseph benched Maxwell because of poor play four weeks into his Dolphins career. (Maxwell allowed 14 of the first 23 passes thrown at him to be completed for 185 yards.)
But an injury to Xavien Howard was Maxwell’s opening to get back into the lineup, and his play improved markedly.
He finished the season holding quarterbacks to a 71.6 passer rating in throws against him, and Pro Football Focus ranked him 11th among all corners, ahead of even Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
When asked what gave him confidence that Maxwell would play this year like he did in the second half of the 2016 season, and not the first, Dolphins coach Adam Gase said: “Because that’s kind of where he is right now. I think he was trying to figure out where to fit in, the third team in three years. It’s a little different scheme than what he did in Seattle. Completely different than what he did in Philly. It took him a minute to figure out his place here. Once he did, he did a good job.”
Maxwell “really wants to be the best corner, whether it’s in the league, on this team, however he looks at it. He just wants to be the best guy, especially on the field that day,” Gase added.
And to get there, he pushes himself beyond his comfort zone in practice, which could explain why he sometimes gets beat. Maxwell — 6-1, 198 pounds — relies on his physicality to disrupt receivers but will change up techniques in practice to round out his game.
“This camp, especially, he’s made it tough on some of those wideouts when he’s able to put hands on them, especially [Saturday], when he gets those pads on, it’s tough for a wideout,” Gase added. “You better do something at the line of scrimmage with him, because if he gets his hands on you, you’re probably not going to go very far.”