Dolphins corner Tony Lippett won his starting job back Friday, but the development had little to do with how he performed.
In fact, Jarvis Landry toyed with Lippett all morning: once on a hard-cutting catch-and-run in which Landry made observers fear for the structural integrity of Lippet’s ankles.
Any other day, Dolphins coaches would have stopped the fight, and brought in someone else.
The problem is, they don’t really have anyone to tap in right now.
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Xavien Howard, the Dolphins’ second-round pick, is out for at least another week with a knee injury. And Chimdi Chekwa, who had recently pushed Lippett for depth-chart supremacy, left practice with a leg strain. Plus rookie Jordan Lucas is working through a soft-tissue issue.
So Vance Joseph, Miami’s defensive coordinator, was kind when he called the Dolphins’ right corner spot “a competition position. ... The best guy’s going to play.”
Right now, the best guy looks to be the one who was rehabbing Friday while his teammates practiced: Howard, who needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulky knee in June.
Joseph said Friday that Howard “absolutely” could be the starter when the Dolphins if he heals in time. “He’s a second-round pick for a reason,” Joseph continued.
Added defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo: “As soon as he’s ready, he’s going to get thrown into the fire. In the spring, he led us in interceptions. That’s stuff that just doesn’t happen. He’s a guy that has a knack for making plays on the ball. As soon as doctors clear, he’ll play.”
Howard’s timetable remains somewhat murky, according to Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who said that Howard is “still a little ways away.”
But anyone with eyes Friday could see he was making progress. Howard fluidly ran wind sprints up and down the sideline.
“I know the trainers feel great about where he's at right now,” Gase said. “ ... He's working hard. He knows, 'I need to get out there. I need to get as much experience as I can before the season gets going.’”
Also covered during Joseph’s first meeting with reporters of camp:
▪ Earl Mitchell has the early edge on Jordan Phillips at starting defensive tackle because he’s practiced best.
Phillips fell in the 2015 draft because of his work ethic at Oklahoma. It’s been better this year, but “comes back from time to time,” Joseph said.
“You get a guy with his size and ability, we have to make him do it,” Joseph continued. “That's why you pay coaches.”
▪ Jim Washburn, a senior assistant coach helping with the defensive line, commands a room made up of alpha personalities. “He's going to make Cam [Wake] five percent better,” Joseph said.
Wake, for his part, likes what he’s seen out of Joseph in their first year together.
“He's aggressive,” Wake said. “Obviously, I like that. Just having the mentality where, letting guys go out there and do what they do, letting elephants be elephants and giraffes be giraffes.”
▪ The Dolphins decided on middle instead of outside linebacker for Kiko Alsonso because “Kiko is a modern-day Mike ‘backer,” Joseph said. “A guy with the size and length, but also the speed to run to the flat and run to seam.”
▪ Left corner Byron Maxwell has been “playing really well,” and Joseph believes that’s partly because of safety Reshad Jones’ communication in the defensive backfield.
▪ Defensive end Jason Jones, signed by the Dolphins in the spring, has been a pleasant surprise, showing skill as an edge setter and inside rusher, Joseph said.
▪ Joseph will be making the defensive calls from the sideline, and not the booth, during games. “I want to be in the midst of it so I can feel the tempo of guys.”