Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard knew he was bad on Day 1 of training camp.
And he owned it.
“He came to me and said, ‘Hey, that wasn’t good for me. I’ll be better,’” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said Thursday.
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Howard has not only been better, he has likely been the best player on the field through seven practices.
There was no argument who was best Thursday. Howard, the third-year defensive back out of Baylor, was spectacular.
He intercepted Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill two or three times, depending on whether you give him credit for the one in which he out-jumped DeVante Parker for a 50-50 ball in the end zone, but may have bobbled it on the way down.
“That’s a great day for a DB, three picks,” an ebullient Howard told reporters on his way to the locker room.
“That’s been what I’ve been working on, being consistent,” Howard added. “Doing what I can do best and knowing what I can do best. Really just going out there, getting better each day. My biggest thing is being consistent. I’d say it’s a little bit of film study, but really just having confidence in yourself. You’re out there on the island by yourself and you’ve got to think you’re the best everyday.”
Just then, Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil — whom the Dolphins drafted one round ahead of Howard in 2016 — happened by.
“Pay that man right now,” Tunsil interjected.
It’s too early for that. But perhaps soon. NFL rules prohibit contract extensions before a player finishes his third season, but if Howard plays this fall like he has this summer, the Dolphins would be foolish not too lock him up.
Howard has not only continued his high-level play from last year — he had all of his team-high four picks in the season’s final half — but appears to have taken a quantum leap forward. Thursday’s interception-fest was a reward for blanket coverage for most of the past week.
And if it continues into the season, Howard’s ability to lock down a receiver opens boundless possibilities schematically for Burke.
When Darrelle Revis was in his prime, he needed no safety help, single-handedly covering an entire side of the field.
Howard is a long way from being on Revis’ level but wants to someday have that kind of responsibility.
“I’ve got to make my safeties and my defensive coordinator depend on me, knowing that I can shut my island down outside,” he said. “Since I first got here, I told coach, ‘I’m going to be following that No. 1 receiver around.’ He was like, ‘We’re going to see about that.’”
Burke is predisposed to tap the brakes on any runaway hype and was true to form Thursday when a reporter suggested that Howard has had “it” so far.
“I don’t think anybody has it quite yet,” he replied. “Obviously, he’s made some play, which we’re happy for. Another point of emphasis for us is taking the ball away. He’s been getting his hands on balls. I think for us with X it’s just continuing that high level play and keeping that consistency.
“You can’t kind of get lazy with his techniques or bored,” he added. “He hasn’t been. We’ve been really pressing him to stay competitive and with a lot of times with X, it’s when he’s on the backside of things and he’s not getting action and he kind of gets a little bored with what he’s doing. We’re trying to stress the consistency of play-in, and play-out, no matter whether the ball’s coming to you or not that you have to play your techniques right. He just happens to, when the ball’s thrown his way, which will obviously be a good boost for our defense if it continues.”