Xavien Howard’s play during the final six games last season, including back-to-back two-interception games against Denver and New England, represented the best cornerback play served up by the Dolphin since Brent Grimes was locking down receivers in 2014.
And Howard wants that type of performance to become the norm.
Asked Thursday if he was a good player in his first two seasons in the league, Howard answered bluntly.
“No,” he said. “No. I struggled a lot. It’s a part of just coming to the NFL. Stuff that I was doing in college I can’t do in the league. You see different receivers and stuff like that. Really, I’m just learning the game and knowing what I’m best at doing and just sticking to that. In college, I wasn’t really watching film and stuff like that. I was just going on my athletic ability; but in the league, it’s a different level.”
Howard had a simple explanation for why he played well late in the year: Coaches started to permit him to play press most of the time.
“I was pressing more towards the end of the season,” he said. “I was going to get my hands on the guys and stuff like that. Nothing [with] film. I stayed watching film. So really nothing [big], just changing my technique really. Coaches said they wanted us to put our hands on receivers.”
That delighted Howard, because “I did that in college. My strength is pressing.”
What also helped, Howard said, was film study that helped him get a feel for the opposing quarterbacks’ tendencies.
Howard said he hasn’t watched a tape of his exceptional Monday night game against New England. Instead, he watched the games where he didn’t play as well.
“It’s a new year; I need to achieve more than that,” Howard said of the Patriots game. “I’ve got to look back and see things I wasn’t doing well… watch what other players are doing. Knowing what I put on film… looking at my weaknesses."
The challenge now is beginning year three how well he ended year two. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke “said I need to start how I finished the season."
Safety Reshad Jones, entering his ninth season in the league, said Thursday he was pleased when the Dolphins drafted a safety (Minkah Fitzpatrick) in the first round.
“It’s about time,” he said of the thought that came to mind. “We haven’t drafted a safety in awhile. About time to get another defensive back in the room. It was helpful.”
Jones said Fitzpatrick has been impressive in the early stages of on-field work.
“He’s been making plays, getting hands on balls early,” Jones said. “He definitely will help. He hasn’t picked my brain too much. I’m kind of helping him on little things. I think he’ll be fine.”
Jones sees upside in some three-safety lineups with himself, Fitzpatrick and TJ McDonald.
“With Minkah on the field, it would give us that extra lockdown coverage,” he said.
Jones said he “definitely would like to retire a Dolphin. I’ve been here nine years. I don’t want to go nowhere. Nine years, being with the same team, that’s kind of rare. I love Miami. I was blessed to be able to be drafted to one of the teams I wanted to come to.”
Jones, who turned 30 on Feb. 25, said he feels like he’s 18 and remains atop his game. He made the Pro Bowl last season, his second appearance.
“I know I’m one of the best safeties in this league,” he said.
“Contract situation is behind me, all those things behind me. My main focus is to help this team win, be the best teammate and player I can be.”
Jones, on other issues:
▪ On the team’s desire to improve the culture in the locker room: “We have the right guys in the locker room. The culture feels different, feels better. We are headed in the right direction.”
▪ He said Ryan Tannehill is “looking good, making all the right throws.”
▪ He said technique taught by defensive backs coach Tony Oden doesn’t seem much different than predecessor Lou Anarumo.
“Tony is a great dude,” Jones said. “He will be very helpful.”