Barry Jackson

Dolphins, with too many second-round disappointments, hoping Phillips, Howard emerge

Miami Dolphins Jordan Phillips confronts Buffalo Bills Richie Incognito after a scuffle in the endzone in the fourth quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Oct. 23, 2016.
Miami Dolphins Jordan Phillips confronts Buffalo Bills Richie Incognito after a scuffle in the endzone in the fourth quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Oct. 23, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Dolphins drafted 13 players in the second round from 2003 through 2014.

From that group, they nabbed one sure-fire stud (Jarvis Landry), a second above average player (Sean Smith) who was lost in free agency after his rookie contract, three serviceable players (Koa Misi; Samson Satele, who was dealt for a sixth-rounder after two years and returned later for one season; and Matt Roth) and eight who were busts or disappointments (Eddie Moore, John Beck, Phillip Merling, Chad Henne, Pat White, Daniel Thomas, Jonathan Martin and Jamar Taylor).

The Dolphins also regrettably traded second-rounders for AJ Feeley, Daunte Culpepper and Brandon Marshall.

Not good. Teams should expect at least half of their second-rounders to be above average multiyear starters. The Dolphins haven’t come close to that.

So it’s vital that the last three second-rounders – Jordan Phillips, Xavien Howard and Raekwon McMillan – join Landry (who was voted the NFL’s 42nd-best player by his peers) in reversing that trend.

Phillips has been an enigma for two years – a player capable of dynamic plays but also one with a penchant for disappearing for stretches, especially in run defense. And Phillips knows it.

During a candid session with reporters on Tuesday, he called himself a “second-round pick that hasn’t [done] what I need to do so far. It’s time to step up. I’ve got to step up. It’s a big year for me. The team is looking for me to do what I need to do…. You guys see what I do on Sunday. No use in sugarcoating it. Everybody knows. Might as well be honest with myself.”

Phillips, who will need to be a starter and play more snaps after the release of Earl Mitchell, said he looked “at myself in the mirror and what I need to do and that’s be better. When I got benched last year for those few games, it opened my eyes. I’ve got to go all in week in and week out what I need to do. Otherwise you are going to be put on the bench.”

Asked if he came out of the past two seasons unsatisfied, he said: “100 percent.”

Phillips went to Portland, Ore., this offseason to work with fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who has mentored him the past two years.

While reluctant to divulge details of those sessions, Phillips said the upshot is “my mind is better than it has been. That’s my main thing, trying to get headstrong.”

He said Suh has helped him find “tips and tricks on how to get me going, and stay consistent with that, keep my motor going. The hot and cold motor - you guys see every once in a while. Just tricks to keep it going. I have grown up a lot. Ready for the new opportunity, ready to help the team the way I need to. It’s my third year. Been under the wing of Suh for a while and the rest of the guys in the room. I know what to do. I know how to get it done. I’m ready for the challenge.”

Knowing he will need to play more, he wants to lose weight to help his stamina. He played at 336 last year, is 335 now and wants to get to 320.

How will he know he has arrived?

“When I’m an all-pro defensive tackle and I make the Pro Bowl,” he said.

Safety Reshad Jones said Tuesday that Phillips “can be as good as Suh if he puts the work in. Great talent, got all the athletic ability in the world. He demands a lot from himself. He wants to fully reach his potential.”

The Dolphins believe Howard can be a high-end longterm starting corner. But he was limited to six games last season because of a September knee injury and when he played, he allowed a 104.6 rating in his coverage area, compared with 87.6 for Tony Lippett, who is competing with Howard for a starting job opposite Byron Maxwell.

“I couldn’t get 100 percent,” said Howard, who had knee procedures in June and September. “First injury I couldn’t finish OTAs, second one came from me jumping in the air and catching the ball. I couldn’t perform at the level I know I can. I’ve worked a lot to strengthen my leg. Very confident about my knee.”

Though GM Chris Grier has said Howard can play in the slot, he said he hasn’t been used there in offseason workouts. “I’m an outside,” corner, he said.

He has worked with a footwork specialist in Houston to work on his movement skills and has studied film of Maxwell, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Aqib Talib.

“I am still learning to be an elite corner in this league,” he said. “I know what I am capable of. I know what I can do when I’m 100 percent.”

Reshad Jones, who raved about Lippett on Tuesday, said “Xavien can be one of the top corners in ths league. He still has a long way to go but he’s progressing. Learning different formations and how to handle different splits. He will be a tough guy to handle once he gets a couple more snaps.”

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