When DeVante Parker puts on his uniform before practice, Xavien Howard is not actually one of his pieces of equipment.
It has just seemed that way through five day of camp.
Because Howard, the Dolphins’ third-year cornerback, has been attached to Parker’s hip most every time they have matched up.
It happened again Monday, when Howard locked Parker down for much of practice, and two plays in particular.
One-on-one drills by their very nature favor the offensive player, but Howard was unbeatable in two deep passes.
The first was simply good defense and Parker could not make a play on the ball. (Howard ran by members of the media immediately afterward and used some colorful language to convey his satisfaction.)
But the second exchange was an even better play by the corner. Howard leaped and batted away the pass just before it reached Parker.
Depending on your point of view, all of this is either really good news, or not-so-good news.
The Dolphins need Howard, a second-round pick in 2016, to be their best cornerback. So far, he has been.
“I’m bringing my ‘A’ game this year,” Howard said.
Added Dolphins coach Adam Gase: “You see his confidence is way up. He challenges everything. He’s aggressive, he’s pressing. Him going against those receivers pays off because those guys can be tough. He’s not afraid to get physical with them.”
As for the coin’s flip-side?
Parker has been largely ineffective through five training camp practices, particularly in team drills. While Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Isaiah Ford have all flashed, Parker is still waiting for that signature play.
For their part, Dolphins coaches are not concerned (at least publicly).
“We’re going to have some bad days in there, but we’re just looking to keep stacking as many good ones in a row as possible,” Dolphins receiver Ben Johnson said. “He’s trending in the right direction right now. We’ve got to keep developing him and get him going; but we’re really, really excited about him.”
An important qualifier: It’s still very early. The team’s first preseason game is not for another week.
But Parker is under pressure like never before in Year 4. While the Dolphins picked up his fifth-year option, they are under no obligation (short of major injury) to honor it if he does not perform.
And for the first time in his career, Parker has competition behind him that could keep him off the field. Gase plans to play Wilson on the outside and not the slot, and it’s hard to see Stills coming off the field.
The meaning: If Wilson plays better than Parker in practice and preseason games, it’s reasonable to think the former will play more than the latter in games. Yes, Parker is a first-round pick, but Wilson is earning $8 million annually from the Dolphins, so they have incentive to play both.
For now, Parker remains the team’s starter, alongside Stills.
But that also means he is guaranteed to see Howard in coverage on most every route.
“I think him and DeVante have some really good battles,” Gase said. “It really gets physical between those two guys. His ability to track the ball, he keeps finding ways to get better in that area. He’s in on a lot of plays.”