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Xavien Howard on track to play Thursday, start after that; Drake plays Thursday; Tough news for Pead; great day for Jordan Cameron

Xavien Howard as the Dolphins starting cornerback against the Seattle Seahawks in the Sept. 11 regular-season opener? Bet on that.

The Dolphins are initially expecting to do exactly that with the rookie who has yet to play in a preseason game. And as part of that greater plan, Howard will play in Thursday's preseason finale against Tennessee -- his first game as a Miami Dolphin.

"We're going to play them both," coach Adam Gase said of Howard and fellow rookie Kenyan Drake, who also will be making his preseason debut. "And the next couple of days of practice we're going to see where they are from a conditioning standpoint. I think they're in good shape but obviously it's not dynamic football shape right now. I think X a little ahead of Drake. We'll have probably a set number of plays they can go and try to stay in that range without going over.

"They need to play. If those guys, if they're active for the Seattle game, it would be nice for them to have experience in an NFL game."

If it sounds like the Dolphins would be asking a lot of Howard to make his professional debut at Seattle, consider that he plays cornerback. And the way the Dolphins ask their players to play the position, much of it is fairly easy to figure out.

"If we line him up in Game One tomorrow, he could play," Gase said. "Playing corner and what we do, it's what he's been doing his whole life. So, I mean, we're going to line him up and tell him to cover that guy. Whoever is across from him. We're not going to make it hard on him. It's no secret what we do on defense. We attack and play man-to-man coverage."

By the way, in speaking of Drake in generalities, it seems more certain now the rookie will be on the 53-man roster than being on the short-term injured reserve list -- which was a definite possibility when Drake was nursing a hamstring injury for a couple of weeks.

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Speaking of hamstring injuries, Gase said running back Isaiah Pead will be out at least two weeks with the hamstring injury he suffered against Atlanta Thursday night. That means the team will have a tougher roster decision on Pead than if he had remained healthy and continued to produce at the rate he did early in the preseason.

"Unfortunately for him, it's another hamstring," Gase said. "We'll kind of see where things are with the roster. It's unfortunate for him because he was kind of rolling a little bit. We'll see how everything falls."

The timing of Pead's return raises the possibility he could be placed on injured reserve. That way, the Dolphins don't lose a solid player to the waiver wire.

"It's tough," Gase said. "You have to figure out what the right thing to do and does the film and what the guy's done in practice enough to say, 'Hey, you made it and we're going to have to carry you.' Obviously, you have a few options you can do to kind of hold a spot and bring him back. We haven't made any of those decisions."

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The Dolphins continue to believe center Mike Pouncey is week-to-week. He isn't playing or practicing this week. If he cannot practice and play next week, Anthony Steen will be the starting center against Seattle.

That's asking a lot for a player who started his first game for the Dolphins last Thursday against Atlanta.

"He did a good job," Gase said of Steen. "I know he had the ball on the ground that one time. But for the most part he did a good job. There were times he had to do some things as far as redirecting protections along with him and Ryan communicating. Him and Ryan were outstanding."

Translation: The Dolphins are not sweating if Pouncey isn't ready for the season-opener.

"He finds a way to get it done and he's physical and tough," Gase added about Steen.

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So we know that Jordan Cameron has been in something of a slump. He's dropped a couple of touchdown passes this preseason. He's had some trouble becoming a big part of the offense.

But Sunday was perhaps his best practice of the entire preseason.

He caught 25-yard pass down the middle of the field in a two-minute drill. And then he finished off the drive with a touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.

Teammates, obviously aware Cameron has been under pressure and has gotten some bad press, celebrated the score en masse. Practically every player on offense ran over to Cameron to congratulate the tight end.

"They've been doing things a little different in that when we get in the end zone, we're celebrating together," Gase said. "It's not a one-man show. I think those guys have been doing that during games and it's carried over to practice."

Yeah ... no.

Kenny Stills scored a TD on a streaking bomb which went some 60 yards Sunday. And he didn't get a team celebration for the score.

"It was fun. It was fun to get the two-minute drill going and to be successful and get some confidence back," Cameron said. "I don't know why they did [the celebration]. I was like, 'What is going on right now,' but it's always good to enjoy that with your teammates."

So was the celebration a big "screw you" to media critique of Cameron's recent play?

"I don't know," Cameron said, "that's what it felt like."

That makes sense.

"That's a guy all those guys really like and they really care about," Gase said. "For us, in that situation, that was a big play in that two-minute period. Him making that play, and he made a couple of good plays in that series, you can see Ryan ... Ryan's going to go to him and he knows he has a great matchup sometimes, especially when it's on a linebacker or safety. He'll keep getting opportunities."

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Most NFL teams sit their veterans in the preseason finale. The Dolphins are not as likely to do that with all their veterans, Gase said.

“We’re in a different situation because we’re so young\," Gase said. "We probably have more guys that need to play, more than the luxury of, ‘Hey, we’ve got so many guys sitting out.’ I guess you look at it as almost, for Rizzi especially, I think, we can play some guys. Any kind of game experience is great. It is football at the end of the day, and things happen, but I’m not gonna sit here and stay up all night worrying if somebody’s gonna get hurt. We’re gonna play. Some guys will be out, and some guys will be playing.”

Linebacker James Michael-Johnson (thigh) is close to returning to practice, perhaps as early Monday, Gase said.

The coach said linebacker Jelani Jenkins' status for the season opener is uncertain. After he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery it will be up to how quickly he rehabs following the surgery.

"I can say there's a possibility that that first game he's good," Gase said. "It's how his body reacts to everything."

Ndamukong Suh (ankle) was not on the injury report today but he did not practice. Gase said it was a decision to have him stay inside the building and rehab ...

 

 

 

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