When the Miami Dolphins drafted cornerback Xavien Howard in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, the hope was that he would be able to compete for the starting job opposite veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Unfortunately, the rookie had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery before training camp began, which forced Howard into two months of rehab before finally being taken off of the physically unable to perform list this past Thursday. Now that he's on the active roster, the Dolphins are trying to bring him along slowly in practice to ensure he'll be ready for the regular season.
“We had him do individual. Conditioning and then going out there and practicing football, it’s just two different animals." said head coach Adam Gase. "It’s going to take a second for him to get back into the flow of things. When we start having him go against wide receivers, he’s going to have to get that feel back. It’s been since the spring and that’s a lot of time that has gone by."
Howard, while not particularly forthcoming with answers to questions from the media, did imply that he has been keeping up with the mental aspects of the defense while he rehabbed, and while he wouldn't be playing in the third preseason game this upcoming Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons, he does expect to play in the final preseason game the following week against the Tennessee Titans.
“I feel like I got better." Howard said. "My leg is better and it’s going to improve when I go out there.”
And while Miami hopes to give the rookie the opportunity he's hoping for, Adam Gase isn't making any promises regarding the rookie's future status.
"Hopefully we can get him in a game before we hit the regular season." he said. "We just don’t know yet. We have to see how his body feels, we have to see how his legs feel, we have to see how his movement skills are. There’s a lot of little check marks we have to make before we throw him into a game.”
Howard's recovery could be crucial for the Dolphins' 2016 season, as Tony Lippett has been struggling with some fundamentals and veteran Chris Culliver is still on the PUP list and could be for some time. With all that in mind, Howard could very well be Miami's best chance at having a functional secondary.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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