After a remarkable stretch of 11 interceptions in 17 games and a Pro Bowl appearance, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard was eager to pick up where he left off after signing a five-year, $76 million contract extension in May.
It hasn’t exactly happened for Howard, who hasn’t picked off a pass this season while permitting 14 of the 18 passes thrown against him to be caught, according to Pro Football Focus.
And Howard’s status for Sunday’s game against Washington is very much in question because of knee soreness.
Coach Brian Flores was noncommittal about whether Howard will be able to play: “We’ll see. He’s been limited all week. He wants to play. Hopefully we have him out there.” The Dolphins listed Howard as questionable, and a decision will be made this weekend.
In a private moment this week, Howard made clear he expects more of himself.
“[Expletive], right now, I’m zero interceptions,” he said. “I feel I’ve got to improve, get better, got to make plays, got to do my job. I set the bar high. I still want to perform at a high level each week.”
Howard makes clear that he is not using this as an excuse, but it has been an adjustment adapting to the technique that new cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer wants him to use at times. It’s somewhat different from the technique taught by former defensive backs coach Tony Oden, who is now coaching only the Dolphins safeties.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Howard said. “I’m trying to get a handle on the defense, trying to figure out the things I can do and what I can’t do in this defense. I’ve been doing what coach is telling to me. That’s one big thing, I don’t want [to create issues] for the coaches. I want to have everything at a good level. So I’ve been trying to be coachable, to do my job, what they want me to do.
“It’s a different technique I’m using, another tool I can use in my box. But I’m not blaming anything on the technique. I’m out there on my own, so I’ve got to do what’s best for me and ball.”
How difficult has this season been emotionally with the four lopsided losses and the trading of several top veterans?
“It’s part of the business,” he said. “It’s been crazy, first time going through this.”
Beyond Howard, the Dolphins listed 10 other players as questionable for Sunday’s game and all were limited in practice Friday. Those 10 include offensive lineman Jesse Davis; running back Kalen Ballage; safeties Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain; receivers Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson; cornerbacks Chris Lammons, Jomal Wiltz and Johnson Bademosi and linebacker Trent Harris.
▪ The Dolphins have been cautiously optimistic about McCain, Davis and Jones being able to play, but less so about Grant. If Grant cannot play, running back Kenyan Drake said he expects to handle kickoffs and receiver Preston Williams said he expects to handle punts.
▪ Receiver Allen Hurns, who missed one game while in concussion protocol, will play Sunday. He said the concussion — sustained on a crushing hit from Cowboys safety Jeff Heath — was the fourth in his life and said “I still don’t remember [that Sept. 22 Dallas] game.”
Hurns said he’s not worried about his history of concussions and said in the aftermath of that hit, he had a “headache but nothing crazy.”
He said Heath “reached out to me” in the days after the hit to check on his health, as did several others in the Cowboys organization, where Hurns played last season. Hurns said he and Heath had locker stalls next to each other in Dallas’ locker-room last year.
“It’s nice to have Hurns back,” Flores said. “He has looked good in practice. He’s one of our most dependable players, tough, runs good routes, blocks. He brings a lot to this team from a toughness, dependability, leadership standpoint. As tough a guy as we have.”
▪ Flores declined to divulge any details of his conversations with owner Stephen Ross or general manager Chris Grier about Sunday’s game. A win Sunday would damage the Dolphins’ chances of landing the top overall draft pick; Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the front-runner for that pick if he turns pro, as most expect.
▪ Dolphins center Daniel Kilgore, on draft-prioritizing fans rooting for Miami to lose on Sunday: “As much as everyone wants us to lose to get that No. 1 pick, I don’t give a damn.”
▪ Though UM coach Manny Diaz announced Monday that he will become more involved in his team’s defense and didn’t rule out calling plays, Flores — who has a defensive background — said he would not do the same.
“I have a lot of respect for Manny, spent time with him a couple offseasons ago,” Flores said. “Bright, energetic. Very, very good coach. Every situation is different. I have a lot of confidence in [defensive coordinator] Pat Graham. Pat will call the game. You need one voice there. Pat will call it.”
▪ With the Dolphins having been outscored 81-0 after halftime, Flores has spoken of needing to re-evaluate halftime adjustments. But Dolphins people insist those adjustments are being made.
Cornerback Eric Rowe said this staff is making the same amount of halftime adjustments that the Patriots staff did. Rowe played for New England in 2017 and 2018; Flores was New England’s de facto defensive coordinator last season.
▪ Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan said Case Keenum will start at quarterback Sunday against the Dolphins. Rookie Dwayne Haskins will be the backup, ahead of Colt McCoy.