There’s no serious worry within the Miami Dolphins that the team has an obvious predicament at cornerback.
Coach Adam Gase on Tuesday announced that second round draft pick Xavien Howard a month ago injured a knee during the final minicamp practice and required arthroscopic surgery. The rookie will remain sidelined to start training camp and possibly for some time beyond that.
Gase made the injury announcement with no more drama than as if he were reporting his kicker has chapped lips.
And a source tells me the team is “pretty comfortable” with its current talent at the position and isn’t about to do anything “crazy” right now to change the dynamics of the situation.
That suggests no trade is in the offing to bring in help. And there won’t be an immediate rush to sign a veteran free agent so no gamble on someone such as an obviously diminished and possibly injured Antonio Cromartie.
The Dolphins are going to stay the course for now. They hope second-year player Tony Lippett, who was going to compete with Howard for the job, will play like he earned the spot even though the competition for the starting job has been, well, cut off at the knees.
This tells me one of two things about the 2016 Miami Dolphins:
There’s a chance these guys are not only cool customers in the wake of a potential crisis, but also great planners who had an answer on the roster ready for the big stage in case their draft-day plan — selecting Howard — wasn’t quite ready for opening day.
Let’s consider this option first because, frankly, training camp hasn’t even opened and it is simply too early to ring any alarms about a team that hasn’t even stepped into the fire yet.
Howard wasn’t guaranteed of starting any more than Lippett was. He’s not gone for the season. Gase said, “We expect him, at worst, to be back by the first regular-season game. He has been working hard trying to work his way back.”
So it’s not a hopeless situation. Help eventually will arrive.
And in the meantime, Lippett gets his chance to shine. He did just that toward the end of the offseason, even after Howard had been drafted.
“As the spring went on, we saw him getting more comfortable and he did a good job, “ Gase said of the 6-3, 200-pound Lippett. “He had a couple of picks there towards the back half. It seemed like he did a good job even when the ball was popped up in the air, he gets his hands on it.
“He does a good job of making sure that he comes down with the ball when he does get his hands on it. We are seeing improvement — the fact that he is long and can get at the line of scrimmage and press. We just need guys to be able to hang in there for a short period of time. That’s why I love our pass rush, because that thing is coming.”
So maybe there’s nothing to see here.
Maybe Howard will be back soon and get up to speed quickly. Maybe Lippett is going to be good, and if not, maybe he’ll be good enough long enough that other players on defense will cover for his or any other cornerback’s flaws.
But — here comes the ominous stuff — there is the other possibility that no coaching staff or personnel department likes to embrace before even one practice is complete.
That possibility is perhaps the Dolphins are in trouble at cornerback.
Lippett has proven zero in the NFL. Indeed, he was a wide receiver at Michigan State so he really proved zero at cornerback in college also.
Yet he’s Miami’s starter along with Byron Maxwell.
And Howard, now dealing with a setback, is in a tough spot. He’s a rookie who is going to miss two or three weeks of training camp. He’s going to be way, way behind everyone else and would have to be a latter day Deion Sanders to make up that kind of ground by opening day.
The Dolphins just got rid of a cornerback, also drafted in the second round, who was injured before the start of his rookie training camp in 2013 and never quite recovered. And, like it or not, Howard is in a similar spot to start his NFL career.
We’ve seen this act before. And, unfortunately, we’ve seen the team react similarly before.
Last year the entire Earth seemed to know the offensive guard spot was a train wreck waiting to happen. The Dolphins did nothing about it. Even when they were gifted a chance to sign a veteran guard early in training camp, they remained steadfast in believing they were right and the Earth was wrong.
This year’s cornerback situation has begun resembling last year’s guard predicament — no matter how confident the Dolphins are that it doesn’t.